Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles deserves its accolades. Like all science fiction, Bradbury uses the issues of his time, late 40s and early 50s America, and creates a future that reflects the extension of those concerns, only vastly expanded.

Bradbury's main concern is nuclear war between the United State and the Soviet Union. But he tackles many more topics. With the human settlement of Mars, there are shades of the colonial interactions of Europeans with indigenous peoples. All of the Martian settlers are American, and most are Mid-Western. The settlement pattern is familiar: first recluses and adventurers, then miners and prospectors, followed by store keepers, companies, merchants, and the rich. They build towns and cities. Mars becomes an outpost of Earth much as Ohio was once an outpost of the east coast of the United States.

But there are deeper spiritual elements. The Martian people, quickly on their way to extinction, are able to read minds and shape shift; they often appear to Earth people as dead loved ones. Bradbury taps into the deep human desire to recapture loss. Mars, in this sense, is a fantasy setting where people try to unravel the terrible calamities of life.

In his introduction, Bradbury explains he wanted to create a book like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, but on Mars. In a sense he has done this; each character, in his or her own way, is mentally and emotionally isolated like Anderson's Ohioans. Bradbury’s Mars is not only physically distant, but reflects the existential distance between all people.

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