Tal Cohen's Bookshelf: A Collection of Personal Opinions about Books
The Martian Chronicles / Ray Bradbury
Reviewed by Tal Cohen Friday, 15 August 1997
The Martian Chronicles is an excellent collection of loosely-tied short stories which together, make the history of man's conquest of Mars. It is one of Bradbury's finest books, and certainly the most popular one.

The Martian Chronicles is one of those rare books showing mankind as alien invaders on another planet. Mars is perhaps the most common source, in early SF literature, for invasions into Earth - the most famous example being H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. In Bradbury's novel, we see how it can happen the other way around. As in Wells' work, here, too, the Martians are killed by Earth's bacteria -- but rather than a case of victory in war, this is a sad disaster. The desease wiped out a beautiful, wise, and ancient civilization.

(From the book) Spender turned and went to sit at the fire, looking into it. Chicken pox, God, chicken pox, think of it! A race builds itself for a million years, refines itself, erects cities like those out there, does everything it can to give itself respect and beauty, and then it dies. Part of it dies slowly, in its own time, before our age, with dignity. But the rest! Does the rest of Mars die of a disease with a fine name or a terrifying name or a majestic name? No, in the name of all that's holy, it has to be chicken pox, a child's disease, a disease that doesn't even kill children on Earth! It's not right and it's not fair. It's like saying the Greeks died of mumps, or thr proud Roman died on their beautiful hills of athlete's foot! If only we'd given the Martians time to arrange their death robes, lie down, look fit, and think up some other excuse for dying. It can't be a dirty, silly thing like chicken pox. It doesn't fit the architecture; it doesn't fit this entire world!

The book depicts humankind as mostly violent in nature. Bradbury holds a mirror in front of the reader's face, and the reflected image is not very nice. The science in the book is very soft core (and at times very unrealistic, even considering that some of the stories were written as early as the late 1940s). One of the themes discussed, for example, is that of colonialization. A comparison of the Marians with native American Indians is almost unavoidable. In fact, it is not only hinted, but referenced directly:
(From the book) ג€œ [...] Let me ask you a question. How would you feel if you were a Martian and people came to your land and started tearing it up?”

“I know exactly how I'd feel,” Said Cheroke. “I've got some Cherokee blood in me. My grandfather told me lots of things about Oklahoma Territory. If there's a Martian around, I'm all for him.”

And it's rather obvious that Bradbury considers it to be wrong.

(From the book) “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.”

And yet, The Maritan Chronicles is not only a criticism. At times, it can only be described as a poetry in prose.

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If you liked The Martian Chronicles:
You will probably also enjoy Simak's City, reviewed here.

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