As those of you who have been reading this blog for the long haul know, I am a fan of the late Ray Bradbury, for whom I wrote this tribute when he died last year. I recently acquired a copy of The Martian Chronicles, in the lovely edition pictured to the left. This was one of the first Bradbury books I read, back in my early teens.
I remembered only bits and pieces of images and people from that first read over a decade and a half ago. So it was kind of like reading it for the first time.
And it was magnificent.
Bradbury never gives you a ‘stereotypical’ science fiction story. His is ‘poetic science fiction’ (a phrase I think he used himself; Mr Storm certainly used it in Grade 10 when we read ‘Zero Hour’). The Martian Chronicles only contains three of what one would consider stereotypes for Mars stories/1950s sci-fi: Martians, rockets, and nuclear war.* Unlike, say, Philip K Dick, Bradbury imagined we’d make it out of the 20th century before having nuclear war.
Anyway, The Martian Chronicles is unlike anything else you’ll ever read. It shows forth the full splendour of Bradbury’s imaginative force — and his is an imagination as broad as deep as vivid as any other science fiction author, an ocean of images, a tapestry of words you can run the fingers of your mind across and delight in the colours with your mind’s eye.
There are sublimely beautiful stories and images in The Martian Chronicles, such as ‘Night Meeting,’ a time-tale of an encounter between a Martian and an Earthman, and ‘The Fire Balloons’, the beautifully theological story of the first missionaries on Mars.
There is the dark, present in so much of Bradbury’s fiction, often just under the surface of the beauty (remember ‘The Veldt’?). This we see in the fate of ‘The Third Expedition’ or the dreadful folly of Parkhill and hubristic hot dog stand in ‘The Off Season.’
Ray Bradbury’s is also a playful mind, as in the beautiful image of ‘Rocket Summer’ with which he opens the collection or the fate of ‘The Earth Men’ though mad by Martians.
I tried so hard to savour the book this time through, but Bradbury’s delicious prose sucked me in, pulled me inexorably along. I’ll have to reread to get the full effect in years to come. Here’s some of that lovely prose to enchant you as I go, from ‘Night Meeting’ (it made me think of the Doctor [who?]):
There was a smell of Time in the air tonight. He smiled and turned the fancy in his mind. There was a thought. What did Time smell like? Like dust and clocks and people. And if you wondered what Time sounded like it sounded like water running in a dark cave and voices crying and dirt dropping down upon hollow box-lids, and rain. And, going farther, what did Time look like? Time looked like snow dropping silently into a black room or it looked like a silent film in an ancient theatre, one hundred billion faces falling like those New Year balloons, down and down into nothing. That was how Time smelled and looked and sounded.
*Who’d’ve guessed that we’d end up destroying humanity by driving cars rather than by the atom bomb?