Sunday, January 31, 2021

Ray Bradbury : "The Martian Chronicles"

My first reaction when turning the pages of the "Martian Chronicles" was, that even after a lifetime of reading, classic fiction can still surprise, entertain and even delight the most blasé of readers. Now nearly three quarters of a century old, we must acknowledge that Ray Bradbury’s "Chronicles" have aged surprisingly well. The book is certainly as enjoyable, jolting and actual today, as it was when its chapters first appeared in the Planet- and Wonder stories magazines shortly after the War.

A firmly established Classic since long, the book might even have improved over the years. The time elapsed since publication has added a certain hue of innocent boyhood-charm to the pages, albeit darkened with a strange patina of nostalgia and dismay.
Published in 1951, a mere 6 years after the Earth blasted into the Atomic Age and a decade before our first hesitating flea hops into outer space, the novel has lost nothing of its urgency. It raises concerns indeed over values and doings that still worry us today:  Racial oppression and exploitation, genocide and colonization, nuclear war and militarism and even planetary pandemics. Some chapters, with recent occurrences in mind, have the emotional impact of a Biblical text.
I read that “the chronicles” was a book readers liked to "carry with them over a lifetime." And I can easily understand this. Somehow these chapters stick and keep ghosting in the reader’s mind. Bradbury understood this attraction because the "Chronicles", rather than a work of science fiction, had the allures of a myth or a fable.
With only 305 pages and 26 short chapters the “Chronicles” invite easy reading. Even more so because each chapter is a short-story, very loosely related to the previous or the next. One can dip into any chapter without need to have an overall comprehension or an overview of a storyline. The Martian Chronicles are in fact what is called a fix-up, a novel created by combining several unrelated short-stories. Some short interstitial chapters, frame stories and a bit of editing here and there have done the magic of organizing it all into a composite novel.
The lesser effort in reading allows more time for pondering over the stories told.
The general story - line is clear: a sequence of Mankind's efforts to land on, explore, understand and colonize the planet Mars. That the colonization of Mars echoes chapters of the colonization on Earth is of course intentioned. Parallels can easily be detected within our history - books, from the Pilgrim Fathers to the Indian Wars, from Jim Crow laws to Hiroshima.
But when meeting the Martians in the future, unbiased by our nationalities, free from our history, our culture and our skin color, and strengthened this time by our Scientific and Historical knowledge, will Man act differently this time?