A little over a week ago I finished reading The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. This book was initially not a complete novel, but rather a assortment of short stories which happened to center around the human invasion of Mars. The first story written was "The Million-Year Picnic" set in October of 2026; in the novel this is the last story to be read. My impression of this last story is vivid. In both films and books, obtained for recreational purposes, I am particularly fond of disjointed and abstract plots which seem to be aimless and unconnected. The catch is, though there need be no definite conclusion, there must be an ending echo: something which gives a hint of purpose and connection to the vague shadows of meaning found before. Bradbury accomplishes this wonderfully. (See p. 181-2.)
For my own enjoyment and personal reading I loved this book. The final lines echoed back to a previous story, "Night Meeting" set in August 2002. There a human encounters what appears to be a Martian. Their hands pass through each other and they are unable to determine who is of the present, who is real, and who is not. (See p. 85.) This combined with the ending of the book made me wonder if the Martians were humans evolved a thousand times until Earth began anew after the atomic war and time repeated itself. This is perhaps a stretch though.
Due to the nature of its writing The Martian Chronicles was difficult to analyze. It is also said that Bradbury writes first and finds meaning later. Nothing is planned. Drawing connections in the text was more difficult than, for example, when I read War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. Nonetheless, here are some general themes I observed while reading and would like to explore more with my next reading.
- My impression is that Bradbury offers a decisive criticism of empire and colonialism in all of their forms. However, this criticism is offered with two faces. For example, Jeff Spender of the fourth expedition from the story "And the Moon Be Still as Bright". Spender finds the idea of colonizing Mars horrifying in its possible destruction of the Martian people and their history. (See p. 54.) So terrifying is the possibility, Spender hides away and learns the language of the Martians. On this journey he becomes a Martian in a figurative sense. (See p. 60.) Intent on saving Mars from human invasion Spender becomes homicidal. The question: What is more wrong, the human invasion or Spender's method of stalling it? At the end of the book, perhaps Bradbury did not mean for such a literal interpretation of the refugee family's proclamation of Martian identity. Maybe he meant that if invasion (or emigration) must happen it is the duty of the invader to take on the life of those whose territory they enter, rather than transforming the territory to suit their own needs. (A direct correlation found between our own real-world history and that of the book can be seen in the manner of the Martian population decline.)
- In addition to a critique on colonialism. Bradbury gives brief arguments against racism and censorship. Most prominently in the stories "Way in the Middle of the Air" and "Usher II". "Usher II" is a bit of an oddball in this collection of short stories and harkens back to Bradbury's reputation in horror. It is strange because the protagonist of the story, William Stendahl, like Spender before him, offers legitimate reason for exercise against the status-quo but becomes a villian himself before the end.
- It was also mentioned in class that the issue of illusion (false action) and delusion (false belief) is observed several times throughout The Martian Chronicles.
While I highly enjoyed reading Bradbury's book and particularly appreciated the mode of writing, it is not a book I enjoy pondering on with a time limit. Finding meaning and reason in Bradbury's book seems obvious on first glance but frustration comes quickly when you realize that there are a million other meanings to be found but not fully understood if you take the time to look slowly. I doubt that I will ever understand the intent behind "There Will Come Soft Rains", what Bradbury believed to be the best writing found in The Martian Chronicles, no matter how fun it may be to try, failing is hard to accept.