I really need to stop saying that I love fantasy and am not a fan of science fiction. This was one of those novels that reminds me how much I enjoy thoroughly well written science fiction and often times the lines between science fiction and fantasy are blurred.
It was actually interesting as I read this novel that I wanted to know more about the technical and physical engineering/feats of the book. I wasn’t satisfied with the answer being “it was” or “just because.” I say this is funny, because that’s the part that has always put me off from science fiction. The too detailed focus on the technology, the terraforming, the space travel and the other more technical/physical aspects as opposed to the exploration of new planets, the contact with alien life and the mental and physical reactions to all of the above, really made me question why I say I’m not a big fan of science fiction.
Even with that, I found the character Jeff Spender to be the character I most identified with. The archaeologist had such outsider views, compared to the rest of the numerous crew members (before and during his exploration), on Martian life and the Americanness of space exploration I couldn’t help but be drawn to him.
“Man had become too much man and not enough animal on Mars too. And the men of Mars realized that in order to survive they would have to forgo asking that one question any longer: Why live? Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good a life as possible. The Martians realized that they asked the question ‘Why live at all?’ at the height of some period of war and despair, when there was no answer. But once the civilization calmed, quieted, and wars ceased, the question became senseless in a new way. Life was now good and needed no arguments.” (67)
Bradbury’s creation of this character was a genius move in highlighting the horrors of American expansionism but also in providing a mirror for us to look into and see the past and what we’d done to other native peoples (specifically the American Indians). The Martian Chronicles was a how to (and a re-hashing) of the discovery of America, and it was amazing how well it stood the test of time being over 60 years old.
My friend Alex mentioned that the biggest problem with the book was that it was written before we knew enough about Mars and it’s actual geographical features and atmosphere. Even with what we do know now, the atmosphere Bradbury created felt as if it really was Mars. I even really enjoyed the chronicle/data log style of the writing: from the opening scenes of a thriving Martian community to the final closing scenes of a house on earth and the new Martian people I’m definitely glad I read this one.
Recommendation: Even though it’s over 60 years old, the novel stands the test of time. It might not be technologically (or geologically) accurate, but it still paints a moving picture of American exploration and expansionism even to this day. Add in that it’s so short and the vignettes are so short anyone should read this.
Opening Line: “One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets.”
Closing Line: “The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water…” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from The Martian Chronicles
“I believe in the things that were done, and there are evidences of many things done on Mars. There are streets and houses, and there are books, I imagine, and big canals and clocks and places for stabling, if not horses, well, then some domestic animal, perhaps with twelve legs, who knows? Everywhere I look I see things that were used. They were touched and handled for centuries”
Ask me, then, if I believe in the spirit of the things as they were used, and I’ll say yes. They’re all here. All the things which had uses. All the mountains which had names. And we’ll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable. And somehow the mountains will never sound right to us; we’ll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names. The names we’ll give to the canals and mountains and cities will fall like so much water on the back of a mallard. No matter how we touch Mars, we’ll never touch it. And then we’ll get mad at it, and you know what we’ll do? We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves.” (54)
“They blended religion and art and science, because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle. They never let science crush the aesthetic and the beautiful.” (67)