by Ray Bradbury
“Amoebas cannot sin because they reproduce by fission. They do not covet wives or murder each other. Add sex to amoebas, add arms and legs, and you would have murder and adultery.”
The Martian Chronicles consists of a series of short stories stitched together to form a cohesive whole greater than the sum of its parts. Their are multiple versions of the book, including an updated one which changes dates to be more futuristic and removes the tale “Way in the Middle of the Air” for PC sensibilities. It’s not too difficult to track down the missing story and put it back into its proper place after “Musicians.” In 1997 when this tale was removed from the collection for a new publication and all story dates had 31 additional years tacked on, two other shorts were added in, “The Fire Balloons” and “The Wilderness.” All of these stories are considered here.
At the beginning mankind has perfected rocketry and launched a series of expeditions to Mars, which is a surprise to the Martians because their scientists had always told them that the atmosphere on Earth was too oxygen-rich to support life.
The first couple of humans meet opposition all too familiar to us today. The next aren’t believed to be Earthlings and try to prove themselves to the inhabitants. The third expedition has humanity revealing some of the weaknesses that caused people to want to abandon Earth in the first place. Martian and man meet at the same time while thousands of years apart. Inhabitants realize colonization is inevitable and retreat. Man exerts his will on the planet, removing signs of previous ownership. These are some of the stories, and familiar characters weave in and out throughout the book.
Overall it’s a kind of Wild West on Mars as people on Earth rush to escape war, poverty and oppression and take their chances on new lives. But man will be man, and most of the heavier thinkers among the early pioneers know that it’s only a matter of time, maybe 100 years, before all earthly problems have migrated to the new world.
And that’s what happens. And that’s the point. We can’t escape ourselves, ever, and while man is capable of breeding individuals with the drive to change, to do good works, eventually the sheer weight, volume and volume of humans drowns out sense. No one has yet solved this problem on our world today, and Mr. Bradbury knew this and wrote about it. This book is an examination of those foibles, the issues that keep us from being better than we are even when we give it everything we’ve got. But there’s hope. Every time one of us does something good, something that makes the world just a little bit better there’s a little bit more hope, and that sounds cheesy but it’s still about the most important thing we can do. Will it help? Will we survive? We can hope.
Normally these aren’t posted but below are ratings for the individual stories.
Rocket Summer – 2
Ylla – 4- (3+)
The Summer Night – 4-
The Earth Man – 5
The Taxpayer – 3+
The Third Expedition – 5
…and the Moon Be Still As Bright – 5-
The Settlers – 4-
The Green Morning – 4-
The Locusts – 3
Night Metting – 5
The Shore – 4
The Fire Balloons (added) – 4-
Interim – 3
The Musicians – 4-
Way in the Middle of the Air – (removed) – 3+
The Wilderness (added) – 4
The Naming of Names – 5-
Usher II – 4+
The Old Ones – 3 (n/a?)
The Martian – 4 (4+)
The Luggage Store – 4+
The Off Season – 4
The Watchers – 4+
The Silent Towns – 5
The Long Years – 5- (4+)
There Will Come Soft Rains – 5-
The Million-Year Picnic – 5
It’s a beautiful collection of stories, a beautiful snapshot of the human race and among the best short story collections you’ll ever read. And it’s not a picture of us caught in amber from the time when it was originally published in 1951, this is a modern picture of us that still dates all the way back to when we first picked up clubs. We sometimes have the intelligence, the wisdom and the empathy to overcome as individuals, just not the inclination as a whole. Mr. Bradbury’s examination of these issues is art in its highest form.
“We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things. The only reason we didn’t set up hot-dog stands in the midst of the Egyptian temple of Karnak is because it was out of the way and served no large commercial purpose.”
“Who are we, anyway? The majority? Is that the answer? The majority is always holy, is it not? Always, always; just never wrong for one little insignificant tiny moment, is it?”
“If you can’t have the reality, a dream is just as good.”
This one’s for you, sir. Sorry I’m late.