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.



Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury’s 1953 book about a future society that devalues books, creates a dystopian society in which the firemen burn books.  I’ve read that the original intent of the book was to show society’s change from a book reading bunch to a television/radio centered people who lose the value and importance of reading.  Some can even argue that the internet has pushed that even further now.  As a teacher, I beam when I see a student bring a paper and ink friend to the classroom and pick it up during short bits of free-time instead of getting on the snapchats and racing games with the school-issued iPad.  I hate to interrupt them, but I try to make a point to ask the students about the books they’ve brought and if they are enjoying them.  Honestly, I would not have been one of those students, but now I just feel like I’m so far behind, so many good books like F451 to catch up on!

F451 opens with the book-burning fireman, Guy Montag, walking home and meeting a strange young girl named Clarisse who is enjoying a walk outside.  She asks him strange questions and afterward, Montag can’t take his mind off of the questions.  His wife, Millie, is addicted to the TV, which she calls her ‘family’.  They have 3 wall-to-wall TVs in the living room and the current popular program uses technology to include the viewer in the programs by adding the user’s name to the program as if they are a part of it.  The Montags are currently saving up to install the fourth and final TV wall.  That night, Millie overdoses on sleeping pills, and Guy calls the hospital, which sends two technicians to pump the pills out of her stomach.  They make it seem like a common thing, and they are in-and-out in no time.

As a fireman, Montag burns books, and his run-in with Clarisse makes him question many things about his job.  He had heard once that firemen used to put out fires, which his boss and coworkers think would be ridiculous! As the story builds, Montag reveals to his wife that he has been saving a book here and there as he went to houses to burn them.  She is horrified and begs him to burn the books in the home incinerator.  When the fire captain, Beatty, learns of the books, he hints that Montag has 24 hours to burn them or turn them in to him.  Later at the firehouse, the men are called to bring their kerosene and burn up another house with books. As the ‘Salamander’ fire truck pulls up the house, Montag’s worst nightmare has come true, he must burn his own home, and books!

I’ll leave the summary there and let the reader continue on their own if they haven’t had the pleasure of reading this cautionary tale.

In this short novel, Bradbury does a brilliant job of character and plot development.  At first I wasn’t a fan of Montag as he did society’s job of burning books. The more the story developed I felt myself rooting for him and hoping he got away with all the books he had saved.  I liked the story a lot and I’ll probably save it and read it again when I need it.

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

Twitter: @blookworm