The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury, 1950)


The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury (1950).

Score: Right in the feels.

I first read this when I was seventeen and still studying English. What a brat I was then. Like with so many books you reread over the years, time and memory distort everything a little but in this case it was not all my fault: not all the editions of the book include the same stories. Some of them replace “The fire balloons” with “Way in the middle of the air”, so you might want to look out for the stories your edition is missing.

The Martian Chronicles is a novel built out of a series of short stories Bradbury published in pulps along the 1940s that follows the colonisation and later abandonment of Mars.

While it’s considered a landmark in science fiction, one of the important books that brought science fiction to the mainstream from the pulps and that, after the decimation of science fiction pulp magazines, brought the genre to novel form, it is quite soft science fiction. It’s quite closer to magical realism than to what a modern reader would consider science-fiction (not in vain Jorge Luis Borges wrote a prologue for the Spanish edition), but that’s not a demerit at all.

You can find many themes in this book, including colonisation and frontier imagery. But the most powerful for me this time around was loneliness. We go to Mars and Martians basically ignore us, then they kill us until we kill them of chicken-pox. We’re left alone in an empty planet fleeing nuclear war trying to make a new start, until the ones we left behind call us back home. The last man on Mars craves for feminine company until he finds out the last woman on Mars is ugly. The other last man on Mars makes himself a robotic family his rescuers cannot bring themselves to kill because they feel human. A fully-automated house keeps making breakfast for a family of four that was killed by nuclear fallout. Finally, a family with three sons expects a family with three daughters to start over, this time cutting all ties from Earth.

We’re lonely because we’re selfish, and we prefer to be lonely than to stop being selfish. We ruin everything we love because we cannot be at peace with each other, and so we are our own worst enemy.

Should you read it? Absolutely.

References: Coursera’s Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, our Modern World.

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