For my second science fiction read, I chose a novel from my lengthy “things-I’ve-been-meaning-to-read-for-a-long-time” stack: Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t quite it.
The Martian Chronicles reads a lot like Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, if the latter involved space travel—lots of short vignettes that rather loosely tie together into a cohesive whole. Martian Chronicles is a lot darker, though. The first few sections begin in 1999 with Martians themselves, but already things are beginning to change as space ships arrive, bringing humans. The stories are arranged chronologically and follow the events that transpire as the inevitable near- eradication of the original inhabitants occurs and subsequent colonization takes place. This is all told in somewhat lyrical, dreamy prose though there is a bleak, almost fatalistic feel to it overall.
Some of the sections stood out to me; the August 1999 section, titled “The Earth Men,” begins humorously with a rocket crewed by humans landing on Mars and failing to find their arrival heralded as the momentous event they feel it should be. Another section, “Usher II” is a dark homage to the works of those weird writers, especially Poe, whom enforcers of the Moral Climates have since outlawed and destroyed (censorship being a theme more famously addressed in Fahrenheit 451). A few of the stories do refer to characters from previous ones, but while the chronology does lend a narrative arc to it all, many of the selections can be read independently as short stories about the future of humanity; indeed, some of the selections were previously published in pulp magazines). Overall, this was a strange and unsettling read, and while I found it interesting, I’m not sure that I found it enjoyable. It seems, alas, entirely too probable that humankind, given access to another planet hospitable to humans, would quickly exploit its resources and destroy the landscape trying to re-form it in a familiar earthly image.
This would be a good foray into the science fiction genre for readers who prefer a more “literary” feel to their genre reading. For similar themes explored in short-story-collection form, try Patricia Anthony’s Eating Memories. Bradbury contemporary Theodore Sturgeon is likewise known for science fiction and fantasy short stories exploring human nature, and his collection Selected Stories contains several Hugo- and Nebula-winning stories.