The Martian Chronicles is a series of short stories and vignettes following humanity’s hypothetical exploration and eventual colonization of Mars. It’s an interesting concept written by one of the strongest sci-fi writer’s of the 20th century. Problem is, it’s less sci-fi more his contemporary political climate printed across the Red Planet. This isn’t in and of itself an issue, it does, however, skew it from a story with a message to a message with a story.
As is always the case with a collection of stories, some are stronger than others, but there is only one that upsettling awful (I’m looking at you Racist Martian Redneck.). He also tends to hit the same narrative notes two or three times over the course of the work. I wonder how much of that comes from the numerable decades that span the books creation, revisited ideas tend to feel redundant when the interceding years are stripped away.
The arc of the story is a simple and predictable one: Human arrogance stretched across the solar system and the suffering that precedes it. There are some genuinely heartfelt, interesting, and creative moments along the way, but I feel the way it jumps from beginning to end too quickly, leaving too much dead space between events. Which would be fine, if those stories that existed felt more… I suppose the term is whole. I wanted to see more of the indigenous Martians. See more of the space between first contact and conquered. It makes its excuses, shuffling them aside in the name of trudging the same path of “Woe is the path of man”, while the one truly new and interesting species is cast a forgotten fairytale.
They deserved more. More than abandoned cities abused by wanderers after the earth finds its ending.
But they didn’t get it. Even their beginning is one of (admittedly justifiable) xenophobic bloodlust. From there they have to make way for Bradbury’s human shapes. The Martians will still make appearances. They will be spoken of, make one-off appearances before fading until the final act where their agency is virtually nonexistence. A middle ground, a sort of Martian wild west would have been ripe for stories of soured friendships, tepid détentes, and created a fuller world in the process.
This review sounds more negative than I think I felt just after I had read it. I’m not sure it’s fair, but it’s where my mind wandered and eventually settled. The stories here are competent, but I’m not sure they are stories I truly wanted or expected from the man I have found myself falling in love with, at least not enough of them.
But life is like that. There are more books. More Chronicles. More places to fall in love. Where there isn’t here, there will be somewhere else.
And isn’t that just the greatest fact the world has ever known.
“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.” ― Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles