Genre : Science Fiction
Publisher : Bantam Spectra
Length : 182 pages
Format : Audiobook
Rating : 4 stars
Publication Year: 1950
The Martian Chronicles tells the story of humanity’s repeated attempts to colonize the red planet. The first men were few. Most succumbed to a disease they called the Great Loneliness when they saw their home planet dwindle to the size of a fist. They felt they had never been born. Those few that survived found no welcome on Mars. The shape-changing Martians thought they were native lunatics and duly locked them up.
But more rockets arrived from Earth, and more, piercing the hallucinations projected by the Martians. People brought their old prejudices with them – and their desires and fantasies, tainted dreams. These were soon inhabited by the strange native beings, with their caged flowers and birds of flame.
The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories about humanity’s colonization of the red planet. The first few attempts are pretty unsuccessful because humans tend to just be killed off or ignored by the native population – because yes, Mars is already inhabited by humanoid aliens. However, humans are a stubborn lot and, a few failures aren’t enough to dissuade them.
I tried reading The Martian Chronicles six or seven years ago because I found the title of the book intriguing. At the time, I was mainly reading fantasy and YA fiction and I had to put the book down after the first two stories because it wasn’t working for me. I remember being quite shocked by how Bradbury decided to kill off the first few rounds of human explorers and I didn’t understand why anyone would want to read a story about humanity repeated failures at space exploration. It was way too depressing for me and I decided to stop reading it.
However, since then I have changed quite a bit as a reader and I’m now not against reading depressing science fiction stories, on the contrary. When I saw that The Martian Chronicles was available on Scribd as a full cast audiobook, I decided to give the book another chance and I’m glad I did. The second attempt was much more successful since: 1) I finished the book 2) I even enjoyed it!
I don’t think it’s a particularly good science fiction story but I don’t think the science fiction setting actually matters that much. It’s basically just a device for Bradbury to tell the story but I’m sure it could have been set on Earth without a lot of major changes.
Humans are able to breathe on Mars without any sort of equipment and that’s of course not possible since Mars doesn’t have an atmosphere (however I’m not even sure scientists knew about Mars’ lack of atmosphere in the 50’s). Also, the Martians are aliens and shouldn’t have a metabolism similar to human beings yet they are able to be killed by their diseases (which makes little sense on a biological level considering that a lot of human disease can’t be transferred to other animals or plants and we at least live on the same planet).
However, while The Martian Chronicles isn’t necessary a good science fiction story, I can’t deny that Bradbury’s ideas are fascinating. This book is a sharp commentary on human destructive behaviors and the tendency of powerful cultures to assimilate and destroy other cultures. In The Martian Chronicles, humanity manages to completely annihilate the Martians in less than a generation: first, they establish themselves on the planet without asking for the permission of the native population, then their diseases kill off the majority of the population and then, they proceed to murder the rest. However, the characters rarely question their actions and the destruction of the Martian is, in the end, just a footnote in their history.
Bradbury’s writing is simple, poetic and more than a few times, quite funny. However, I wouldn’t call this book a light read by any means, on the opposite, it’s quite dark and depressing. I’m glad I read it but it’s not an enjoyable read (and it shouldn’t be, it’s a genocide story after all…).
My only issue with this book is that I feel like I have read this type of story a million times already. I know that the Martian Chronicles inspired a lot of other stories, that it was probably one of the first book to explore these ideas and that it was ahead of its time on several issues. However, as I mentioned beforehand, I have read my share of depressing science fiction stories and a lot of them have explored similar themes and ideas. I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I had just managed to finish it when I first tried it years ago.
Is it still worth a read? Yes, I think so. The writing has aged well and the themes are still (sadly) very relevant.
Vintage Science Fiction Month is a month-long event celebrating science fiction works published/produced before 1979. The event is hosted by the wonderful Andrea from the blog The Little Red Reviewer.