Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles

I bought The Martian Chronicles at a library book sale. I’ve been to 3 sales so far. I believe I bought it in either the first or second. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a while. I had read Farenheit 451 when I was passing time in TPJC’s library at some point. Finished it in a single sitting. Enjoyed it, considered it a little bit simplistic and tame- but it was probably a game-changer when it first came out, and set the tone for other similar works. (Still, it came after Orwell’s 1984. Which I haven’t read yet.)

I decided to read The Martian Chronicles partially because of a recommendation from someone on Quora. (I can’t seem to find the relevant link. Alas.) The recommendation was for a specific story- The Fire Balloons- which, unfortunately, wasn’t in my edition! (It’s a collection of short stories.) Still, I greatly enjoyed reading the Chronicles. Here’s how and why.

The Martian Chronicles were written after WW2, and before the Cold War. Bradbury uses the exploration of Mars as a vehicle to explore our own humanity.

Carl Sagan once said, “Mars has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.” Bradbury humanizes the myth, bringing in emotion, pain, suffering, misunderstanding and confusion into an arena where we might have expected something exalted and glorious. (Are the two separate, really? Less discrete, more part-of-a-continuum)

We go to Mars partially to escape our humanity, but only find more of it there. There’s a downward spiral theme, and a bittersweet redemption- questions of identity, of power, of community, of relationships, all that good stuff. Questions about sanity, religion and unintended consequences.

My favourite moment in the entire novel is the struggle between a Captain and a seemingly “deranged” crew member who mutinies because he disagrees with the mission. The internal struggle of the Captain was incredibly powerful for me to witness. It made me think of Commander Shepard’s struggles in Mass Effect, but with even more depth, even more self-doubt, even more confusion and existentialism. Very, very powerful.

I would like to read the Chronicles again and perhaps update this review with a more in-depth analysis.

Apparently, Edgar Rice Burroughs was an influence on Bradbury. I have a new author to add to my “to-read” list.

Some quotes I liked:

“He just sat there, and the children were caught in the center of his awe and defeat and resignation and acceptance.”

“And one voice, with sublime disregard for the situation, read poetry aloud in the fiery study, until all the film spools burned, until all the wires were withered and the circuits cracked.”

“But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.”

“He didn’t want us to feel badly. He told us it would happen one day and he didn’t want us to cry. He didn’t teach us how, you know. He didn’t want us to know. He said it was the worst thing that could happen to a man to know how to be lonely and know how to be sad and then to cry. So we’re not to know what crying is, or being sad.”

“When Miss Helen Arusumian comes home,” he said, “tell her to go to hell.”

“He expected her to rush out, all perfume, all laughter.”

“His name was Walter Gripp. He had a placer mine and a remote shack far up in the blue Martian hills and he walked to town once every two weeks to see if he could marry a quiet and intelligent woman.”

“Who is this, he thought, in need of love as much as we?”

“They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures, there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.”

“That’s the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles. And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn’t mix. Or at least we didn’t think they did. We were fools. We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud. They wouldn’t move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.

We succeeded pretty well. We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith has always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.”

“They blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never  explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle. They never let science crush the aesthetic and the beautiful. It’s all simply a matter of degree.”

“Will I be clean after this? he thought. Is it right that it’s me who does it? Yes, it is. I know what I’m doing for what reason and it’s right, because I think I’m the right person. I hope and pray I can live up to this.”

“I’ve got to live up to this, he thought. I can’t let him down now. If he figured there was something in me that was like himself and couldn’t kill me because of it, then what a job I have ahead of me. That’s it, yes, that’s it. I’m Spender all over again, but I think before I shoot. I don’t shoot at all, I don’t kill. I do things with people. And he couldn’t kill me because I was himself under a slightly different condition.”