Monday, November 28, 2016

Classics Club 36: The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is a collection of interrelated short stories, relating to the exploration and colonisation of Mars by humans. The collection was first published in 1950 but many of the stories of were previously published individually during the late 1940s. The stories themselves were set in the period from 1999 to 2026 meaning that half of Bradbury's imagined future is part of my history.

At times the stories felt a little dated. Obviously our knowledge of Mars has advanced from when Bradbury wrote these stories and much of what he imagined simply cannot be. Sometimes the vocabulary gives the date of writing away such as the use of the word like rocket. And plenty of the plot lines reflect the realities and fears of the time. The story  "Way in the Middle of the Air" reads as if it was happening in the American South in the 1940s while the atomic war storyline which drives the latter stories obviously reflects the fears of a post atomic bomb world.

Despite this there is also a certain timelessness to The Martian Chronicles. Sadly xenophobia still exists today, racism has not disappeared, and the theme of humans doing what they want regardless is still all-too-prevalent as   many modern environmental issues demonstrate. The value most people place on family ties (something that crops up in several stories) also transcends time, as well as culture.

If you are looking for a realistic imagining of what a human colony on Mars may look like, this isn't the book for you. It really has more to say about life in America in the late 1940s, than life on Mars in 2020. If your reading preferences trend strongly towards intricate plots and detailed character development then this isn't a great pick either. Short stories generally aren't the strongest in these areas. However, if you are looking for an allegory on colonisation them this has much to offer. I found myself wondering what it would have been like to read when it was first released, a time when many colonial empires were breaking up. There was a definite Wild West flavour to the stories, so if you enjoy stories set during the westward expansion in America, you might also enjoy this. And finally, The Martian Chronicles is worth reading for Bradbury's poetic writing. It may be science fiction but it can also be enjoyed by those (like) me) who aren't fans of that genre.


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