The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

The early culture of space sci-fi was built on a foundation which portrayed Martians as beastly killers attacking Earthlings with no remorse.  However, in Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (1950), we have a chance to think about what really might happen.  How would humans feel if Martians came to settle Earth- Would we defend ourselves? Would we welcome the aliens with open arms and help them make a home here?  Another viewpoint Bradbury explores is the human pioneering spirit, such as the US’ Western Expansion through the 17-18th centuries. In both cases of settlement humans are determined to take what they want, and to make the land and culture adjust to themselves, rather than adapt to the new settings.

The first few chapters had a humorous tone. The humans sent the explorers to Mars, but the first three crews were killed in defense.  A Martian woman dreamt of the first rocket coming, she talked to the captain of the rocket in her sleep.  Her jealous husband overheard the conversation and resolved to keep his wife away from the mysterious visitors. He made sure she stayed at home while he went for a casual walk and hunting gun (which shot shells full of bees!).  The chapter ends with two shots in the distance and the wife solemnly welcoming her husband back home.

The second crew found themselves in a frenzy of Martian paranoia.  They have used telepathy to brainwash each other.  Many don’t care that the humans have arrived and find it more of an annoyance.  They send the captain and his crew here and there until finally a smart Martian welcomes them and sends them into a room to wait for him to return.  The crew was dumfounded, how could the the aliens not acknowledge that they have actually travelled through space?  This was a major accomplishment! The crew ment many Martians in the room they entered and soon realized that each one of the Martians were delusional.  The smart Martian was a psychologist, he returned and conducted interviews with the humans and determined that only the Captain was real and the other crew members were holograms to trick those who met him.  Then the psychologist asked the  Captain to take him to the rocket as he suspected this was also a hologram, and he could prove that the space travel was fake.  After exploring the rocket, the psychologist knew it was the best mental projection he had ever seen.  The Captain’s brainwashing telepathy was unlike he had ever seen before.  He knew if the simply shot the Captain the rocket and crew would disappear- but it didn’t.  It was the best projection he had ever seen, even when dead, the Captain’s brain power still made him see the rocket and crew! So he shot each crew member, and he still saw it all in front of him.  The only other explanation he could think of was he, himself, was projecting the imagery, so he took his own life to stop it.

The third rocket’s crew landed in a small town on Mars.  Each crew member recognized the village as their own hometown.  Each happened to see a deceased loved one they recognized in their fake hometown.  The friends and family explained that they didn’t know how they got there, but they had died on Earth and showed up there.  They tried their best to make it more like home.  This Captain was very leery of it all, but dropped his guard when his brother showed up and took him to visit their parents. They had a wonderful meal and the captain held his mother close and danced in the living room with her for hours.  At bedtime, the two brothers lay in the same room, when the Captain had a quick thought that it might be a trick… He decided to sneak back to the ship to wait for the others.  The Captain crept across the floor toward the door when the brother took him out.  The following morning, the entire town of Martians held a service to bury all the dead human explorers.

Further into the book, similarities between the real pioneers and the characters in MC are more apparent.  A Johnny  Appleseed character saw a need for oxygen production in the early days of humanity on the red planet, so he devotes himself to the task.  A husband and wife build a business selling hotdogs at an intersection of two major roads.  Priests believe the Martians need saved so they join the adventure and send missionaries.  Bradbury said Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was a major influence on the Chronicles and with the mass migration the states saw in the 1930’s, one can find many parallels between the two works. The Martian Chronicles was a very imaginative work 70 years ago, and can still captivate audiences today.

The venture, Mars One, plans to turn The Martian Chronicles into reality with a mission to create the first permanent human settlement on Mars.  You can find out more here.

 

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A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time is another great fantasy work, focusing on a fair mixture of science and religion.  L’Engle explores topics which focus on ideas that young adults can struggle with on their way to adulthood.

Meg Murray is a young teen who struggles a lot with school, many of her classmates consider her an idiot, but when it comes down to it, she does very well at math and science (with two scientists as parents, it’s easy to see why).  Her father has been missing for a couple of years after leaving on a science mission with the government. Her mother continues her chemistry experiments at home, patiently awaiting her husband’s return.  Meg also has younger twin brothers who do fair in school, get along well with their peers, and they have a hard time understanding why it’s all so difficult for Meg.  The youngest member of the Murray family is Charles Wallace.  He was late in developing speech, and many people in their town believed he would be dumb, but he was actually very mature for his age of five, and he had a very impressive vocabulary, along with a nearly sixth-sense of mind reading as he always knew what Meg was thinking.

As Meg and Charles Wallace were walking through the woods to their new neighbor’s home, they befriended Calvin, an older boy who was a star athlete and student.  Calvin also had some extra perception capabilities, like Charles Wallace.  Together, they met the ‘witch’ neighbors and were soon whisked away to find their father who was on a distant planet, trying to save the universe from an evil darkness that was taking over stars and planets.  Mr. Murray was not the first to battle evil, as the witches explained, others like Jesus, the Buddha, and famous artists and scientists also had fought against the evil forces.

As the book explains, they use a form of travel called ‘tessering’ which gets them from planet to planet and into other galaxies in the universe.  Soon, they land on the target planet, Camazotz, where they found a society that was completely conformed to do every task at the same time and citizens were exterminated or retrained when they ‘fell out of line’ or caught an illness. Charles Wallace in his naivety, decided to challenge the man who was explaining the order and conformity to the group, and he became hypnotized.  The new Charles Wallace led the other two children their father and Meg used a special gift to free him.  Together, Charles Wallace then led the crew to ‘IT’ to try to have them hypnotized and join the society as well, he was a completely different and untrustworthy person at that point. Mr. Murray tessered Meg and Calvin to another planet to escape, leaving little Charles Wallace to IT.

The group had tessered to another planet in Camazotz’ solar system and there Meg was nursed to health and found a true belief and good and love and is sent back to Camazotz to use her love to untrap Charles Wallace and return home.  The conformity of Camazotz and IT were essentially short circuited by this emotion as they left little free will or capability of truly understanding love.

As mentioned before, important topics in the book focused on young adults gaining a better understanding of the world.  L’Engle emphasized the importance of the perseverance of good over evil frequently in the book.  She also stressed the fight against conformity and importance of free will as the children explored Camazotz.

This was a fun and quick read.  I generally enjoy sci-fi, and those of course were my favorite parts of this book.  I liked how they explained ‘tessering’ and traveling at hyperspeed.  L’Engle did a great job of describing the emotions and physical feeling of tessering through Meg’s character.

Quick amateur sketch of my thoughts of A Wrinkle in Time: (Kids skipping rope and bouncing balls with a conformed rhythm, boy on end is out of sync, mothers leaning out of houses to call the kids in all at the same time while Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin watch. Evil darkness rising behind the houses.)

WrinkleSketch.jpg

Rating: ********8/10

The Stars, Like Dust – Isaac Asimov

Asimov’s 1950 novel begins in a universe in the far distant future, Byron of Wildemos was preparing to graduate from the University of Earth.  The night before the ceremony, he awoke to something amiss in his dormitory.  A radiation bomb had been planted and his life was in danger.  An acquaintance, Jonti, miraculously appeared at the right time and rescued him.  Jonti explained privately that Byron’s life was in danger.  Byron’s father, the Rancher of Wildemos, had been captured and tried as a traitor to the Tyranni (the rulers of over 50 planets, light-years from Earth). The Tyranni were not willing to take chances, so they planned on taking the life of the Rancher’s son to avoid his taking over the assumed revolution against them.

Byron hopped on a ship and headed toward the planet Rhodia, thousands of light-years away to ask the Director, Hinrik, for sanctuary.  Hinrik was suspicious and turned Byron over to the Tyranni, but not before his cousin, Gillbrect, and daughter, Artemesia, formed a plan to escape Rhodia with the help of Byron.  They stole a Tyranni spaceship and embarked on a course toward the planet, Linguane to search for the mysterious planet of rebellion. Upon reaching Linguane, they were greeted by the Autarch, who also happened to be Byron’s savior, Jonti.  Together they prepared to seek the rebellion planet, hidden in a distant nebula.

The following events included twists and turns in the plot as they fight to join the rebellion and escape the Tyranni in pursuit.  Though the book is 60 years old, I’d rather not give too many spoilers, other than the rest of the story involves treason, traitors, love, reason, and rebellion!

Isaac Asimov was a prolific writer, and is considered to be one of the greatest Sci-Fi authors of all-time.  On Wikipedia, he is noted as saying that ‘The Stars, Like Dust’ is one of his least favorite stories he’s written.  I was tempted to put the book down at that, but decided to keep going.  I’m glad I did, and if this book is his worst writing, I would have to say I’m enthusiastic to get to his better books because I found this a very imaginative and enjoyable read.

Rating: ********8/10

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Col. Chris Hadfield

Wow, a very enjoyable book.  I grew up with a father who followed the news of space and he even took us to watch a shuttle launch in Florida one summer.  Reading and watching programs about space exploration and science have been fascinating and this book was no exception.  I first learned about Colonel Chris Hadfield as many others have, singing a version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity while in orbit in the space station (Click here for video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo ).  As a teacher, I shared multiple youtube videos of Hadfield in space demonstrating things like what happens to the water when you wring out a wet towel, or how you throw up in space.  Students loved the Canadian Space Agency’s youtube channel and it was a go to on many days in the classroom.

So now to the book.  Let me begin the review by including Hadfield’s description of the night sky from the International Space Station, one of the nicest lines I’ve read in literature, “The night sky was beautiful, too: fine-spun necklaces of countless tiny lights dressed up the jet-black cloak covering Earth.” (p179)

As a child in the 1960’s, Hadfield watched the astronauts land on the moon in 1969 from his neighbors house in rural Canada.  From then on he dreamed of being an astronaut.  At the time, this was impossible.  Canada had no space agency and only Americans and Russians were allowed into the space programs.  He never gave up on his dream, and in 1995 he made it into orbit.  The first third of his book was very motivational and told how he got to the position he achieved.  Many times, he asked himself, “What would I need to do to get myself closer to the dream?”  He studied mechanical engineering, flew fighter jets in the service and became a test pilot, all preparing him for the impossible. Until one day, NASA opened up their applications to other counties and Colonel Hadfield made the cut.

The last two-thirds of the book went into great detail of training, launching, living in space, and landing.  Riddled in with the technical details, Hadfield included many personal stories which helped bring the reader into the book at a more personal level.

Many people wonder, what does an astronaut do when they aren’t in space.  As Hadfield explains, the astronauts train for nearly two years after they have been assigned a mission, before the blast-off.  Many medical tests, and simulations are done to ensure the safety and success of a mission.  Planning, practicing, and executing are essential for space exploration.  Hadfield made a great point that being successful at any profession finds necessity in these ideals.  Perhaps, though, preparation is a little more thorough in space exploration.  It makes more sense to have a few individuals who are ‘jacks of all trades’ than to have a specialist in each need on board.  Astronauts are trained in dentistry, plumbing, electronics, robotics, just to name a few skills they have on their repertoire.

Hadfield wrote “Preparation is not only about managing external risks, but about limiting the likelihood that you’ll unwittingly add to them.  When you’re the author of your own fate, you don’t want to write a tragedy.” (p65)

In all honesty, I could probably write a book about this book.  I really liked it and found so many interesting points he made and stories he told.  I recommend it to any and all who have the slightest interest in aviation, space exploration, or just want to know what it’s like to be a successful person.  Colonel Chris Hadfield, thanks for a great read.

Rating: **********10/10

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