There’s a reason Ray Bradbury is such a celebrated author, and The Martian Chronicles are a great starting point to finding out why.
Allow me to come clean from the off. I didn’t know a great deal about Ray Bradbury before I picked up The Martian Chronicles based purely on hearing the name of the author and the word legend in the same sentence. So I’ll admit that as I got stuck into this tale of man colonising Mars, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would think that the red planet’s atmosphere would be suitable for humans to survive in without some serious terraforming. So I put the book down, did a little research and discovered that The Martian Chronicles were first published in the UK in 1951 under the title The Silver Locusts.
Suddenly it became easier to let myself fall into the stark and strange landscape that Bradbury creates as American’s vacate the Earth, first in small numbers and then in increasing swathes until Mars becomes a colony for humans. The natives exist only in few numbers and in alternative realms. The books travels in time from 1999 through to 2026 in what must have seemed like a far distant future to Bradbury at the time of writing.
Possibly one of the most interest aspects of how the book is presented is that each chapter reads like a short story in itself. Characters hardly traverse these partitions as each instalment is told through different eyes. Yet place these sections together and Bradbury is able to tell a cohesive tale of man’s curiosity, bravery in exploration, persistence in the face of adversity, ignorance of culture, blind patriotism and ultimate tendencies for self-destruction. There are moments of madness and hatred along with compassion and comeuppance.
If, like me, you’ve not ready anything by Bradbury I would certainly recommend The Martian Chronicles as a starting point. The author’s genius is presented in a rich and intelligent way that had me hooked from start to finish. Witness the death of a civilisation and the birth of another and the irony that comes with it.
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Ray Bradbury, recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2004 National Medal of Arts, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, died on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91 after a long illness. He lived in Los Angeles.