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The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury
Narrated by Stephen Hoye, unabridged
Blackstone Audio, 9 hours, 14 minutes

The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest SF and fantasy writers of our time. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920, he authored such classics of the genre as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Farenheit 451 (1953) by his early 30s, and continues to produce important work today.
In 1990, while at a summit meeting in New York, Mikhail Gorbachov made a special trip to visit Bradbury, his "favourite author," whose works he claimed to have read in the original versions. Bradbury is American fantasy's great ambassador.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Where Everything Ends
SF Site Review: Masks
SF Site Review:Summer Morning, Summer Night
SF Site Review: Moby Dick: A Screenplay
SF Site Review: Fahrenheit 451
SF Site Review: Dinosaur Tales
SF Site Review: From the Dust Returned
SF Site Review: Dandelion Wine
SF Site Review: Green Shadows, White Whale
SF Site Review: Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines
SF Site Review: Driving Blind
SF Site Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes
SF Site Review: The Illustrated Man

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ivy Reisner

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This isn't a novel so much as it is a series of poems and vignettes that run together, with little continuity between the characters except at the very end, when the war starts on Earth, and several characters are brought back to react to it. This book succeeds not because of its plot, which is somewhat disjointed and joined only by the fact it tracks the human colonization of Mars across several decades. It doesn't work because of its characters. Some parts, such as "The Shore," have no real characters to speak of. No one character travels the entire length of the story. The book achieves greatness through its language and its lyrical beauty. Stephen Hoye has the perfect voice for a work like this, and it is greatly enhanced by his reading.

The work starts with "Rocket Summer," which is verbal snapshot of a small town where winter is turned to a short, artificial summer by the heat of the rockets taking off for Mars. The penultimate segment, "There Will Come Soft Rains," is another poem. This one shows a house on Earth, long after the town has been destroyed, running its mechanical life as the hollow echo of its own past.

Between these we get a host of stories about the human occupation of Mars, and the approach, and ultimate realization, of an atomic war on Earth. We start with the early explorers. The first encounter story is written from the point of view of a Martian lady. The Martians are telepathic, and she is visited in her dreams by the approaching Earthman.

When the first rocket fails to return, the second mission is sent. The Martians think these astronauts to be insane, projecting their visions onto others. They see them as carriers of some contagious madness, and they deal with them accordingly.

The Martians are ready for the third mission. When the rocket lands, the astronauts are led into a city very like their home, populated by long-dead friends and relatives. The nostalgia here seems wrong due to the updating of the future history chronology. In the original, first published in 1950, the events took place from January 1999 until October 2026. In the 1997 reprinting, the dates were pushed up 31 years, so "Rocket Summer" is now set in January 2030 and "There Will Come Soft Rains" takes place in October 2057. The dates are pushed forward in this story as well, but the details aren't changed, so the 1950s world the characters find themselves in looks a lot more like the 1920s. That gives this piece an interesting charm -- a look to the future simultaneous to a look to the past.

The fourth mission reads as a social commentary on the occupation of North America by the Europeans. Where the Europeans brought smallpox to the Native Americans, the Earthmen bring chicken pox to Mars, with devastating consequences. The Earthmen have come to claim Mars as their own, to rip down Martian culture, bring disease and destruction to Mars, and remake Mars in Earth's image. A single crewmember, Spender, is so struck by the beauty and nobility of the Martian culture that he feels driven to defend it, and when his colleagues engage in drunken debauchery and start shooting out Martian windows for fun, he takes up arms against them.

"Way in the Middle of the Air" is the work's other great piece of social commentary. This story uses an extremist bigot's efforts to torment African Americans through lynching, through burning their homes, and through keeping every last African American he can from reaching Mars, as a vehicle to decry racism and racial violence. It was striking when it was first published in July of 1950, but is absent from this version. It was first pulled from the collection in 2006.

The colonization of Mars continues, now with fewer and fewer visions of the Martians, through "The Green Morning," a small tale of one man planting trees on Mars, and "The Locusts,"a prose poem about the growing human population spreading across the face of Mars.

"Night Meeting" is a pure fantasy piece in which, at a crossroads in time as well as landscape, a human and a Martian meet and talk for a little while before both journey on into his own perceived reality.

In "The Fire Balloons," a group of Episcopal priests travel to Mars as missionaries. The head of the mission, Father Peregrine, wonders if he'll find new sins on Mars, sins never before known on earth. Instead he meets a species of Martians that appear nowhere else in the work, and through them he learns of new grace.

"Usher II" deals with censorship laws on Earth that long ago forbade any flights of fantasy. No Halloween costumes, no fairy tales, no fiction of any kind. The movie producers are forced to put on the works of Hemmingway over and over again. A rich man builds for himself a mock up of the House of Usher on Mars where he invites all of the politicians behind the censorship law and kills them one-by-one in ways reminiscent of Poe's works. At the end, he takes Inspector Garrett of the Moral Climate Committee downstairs, to see the amontillado. This story carries elements from his Fahrenheit 451, such as the fire department that burns books and may be thought to take place in the same universe.

We get the tale of a lonely Martian, thrown from identity to identity, forced to be whatever the humans around him most want him to be in "The Martian." We see two women ready to follow their men to Mars in "The Wilderness" (a title included in this collection, though it is often omitted). We find what might be the last man on Mars, calling around in hopes of finding the last woman on Mars in "The Silent Towns."

We end with a family on the run from earth to the now nearly desolate Mars. The father promises his sons that he will show them Martians, real live Martians. At the end, in the final moments of the work, he takes them to a river and tells them that there are the Martians, as their own reflection looks back at them.

Copyright © 2010 Ivy Reisner

Ivy Reisner is a writer, an obsessive knitter, and a podcaster. Find her at IvyReisner.com.


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