Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles

November 28, 2014

31ZJ8BB6C6L._AA160_So, I’ve revised the opinion I expressed a few days back, because this volume is surely Bradbury’s masterpiece. In places the language verges on the poetic, in other places he is still mawkish and sentimental, but the overall achievement is marvellous.

For some reason which I haven’t fathomed yet, The Martian Chronicles was published in the UK as The Silver Locusts, which meant I spent a while hunting for a book which I thought I didn’t have, but had all along. It dates from the 1950s, and is a collection of themed short stories, about Earth colonising Mars. The stories are dated from 1999 to the late 2020s, during which time Earth manages to colonise Mars, exterminate all the Martians, and then exterminate themselves back on planet Earth by having a nuclear war. Bradbury’s portrait of Mars is clearly not an accurate one, in terms of our current knowledge: for him and his characters, it’s basically Earth but a bit colder and the atmosphere is thinner. But the book is actually much more successful in having us as a species and a civilisation (?!) reflect on ourselves and what we do to our world and its inhabitants…

I was thinking about the silver locusts business, and realise that the silver may be the colour of the hulls of all the spacecraft heading for Mars, and the locusts represent the effect of the hordes of Earthmen taking over and trashing the planet. The Martians have only one advantage over humans – telepathy – and they try vainly to keep us off their planet, but ultimately fail, and are wiped out by a human virus. Remind you of anything? Their ghosts haunt the planet as humans colonise and reshape it the way they want. Thousands flock there, inspired by the dream of a new life. Remind you of anything? And white folks back on Earth are outraged when all the people of colour in the US emigrate en masse…

And the foolishness of our race knows no bounds – the war which everyone feared in the 1950s comes to pass, and the humans on Mars watch in horror as they see Earth glowing with nuclear war, and then all dash back patriotically to do their bit, leaving only a few lonely souls behind, to be joined by some who are sensible enough to flee the ruins of Earth in the hope of starting a new life. The story August 2026 There Will Come Soft Rains is wonderful.

It is very much a piece of its time. It’s barkingly unrealistic, beautifully lyrical, and a powerful allegory about many of the things that are wrong with our world. If anything of Bardbury’s oeuvre survives the test of time, it deserves to be this.

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