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The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950)

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

"They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea"

Is there really a more beautifully written evocation of an alien world? Bradbury is above all else a poet, and The Martian Chronicles his declaration of love for a world he can never touch, but only long for from afar. That's a rather laden introduction, but then this book deserves every plaudit I can squeeze from my own limited vocabulary. This really is the best book every written about Mars and Martians, and in a way, humans, for it brings out the best and the worst in us as a species.

Bradbury paints a haunting picture of a Mars ruined by human colonists and most horrifyingly, a Martian civilisation brought to its knees (in a neat reversal of The War Of The Worlds) by human introduced germs. The book charts the history of a colonisation effort and the Martians curious resistance, which takes many forms both overt and inadvertent. In the opening chapter, for this is not so much a novel as an series of connected short stories, a jealous husband wipes out the first expedition after his wife experiences dreams of a mysterious visitor from another world. In later stories, another expedition finds itself locked up in a Martian insane asylum and in perhaps the most harrowing; the Martians murder a crew, essentially with kindness. Are they evil? No, not really, and perhaps not even especially fearful for their way of life. Bradbury does not really judge his characters harshly, but allows the reader to form their own judgements. Thus, some of the humans who come to Mars to pave over the deserts and build homes and towns are not to be despised, but just as here on Earth, for every good person there is another who is bad or indifferent or uncaring. Mars attracts all types, but the dying Martians see something in us worth keeping and nurturing and seem to harbour no great anger at their fate.

They are simply handing on the keys to the planet to another tenant. Poetry doesn't really date and nor has this story. It helps that there is very little science in the fiction that can be challenged by modern knowledge. Bradbury talks of rockets in poetic terms, not of engine design or environmental support and there is certainly no place for terraforming as in later novels by hard science writers like Kim Stanley Robinson. People walk the Martian surface without suits and one feels that this is not so much because Bradbury knew no better, but because he wanted to talk about Martians and people first and foremost. Thus in general, the words here seem as fresh as they day they were written.

Make no mistake; this is no slam-bang tale of daring, intrigue or action. It is instead the story of the building of a new world and Bradbury lays down the place names with care and feeling. At the end of this book, you will come to feel that you know Spender Hill and Lustig Corners. It's a considerable achievement that he manages within a few hundred pages to destroy a world with some measure of dignity and create the seeds of hope for a better one.

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See also

Books

1912
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. A former American soldier is transported to Mars and finds himself caught up in war and adventure.

1961
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. A human raised by Martians returns to Earth.

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