Posts Tagged ‘The Martian Chronicles’

Jorge Luis Borges: The Total Library

May 9, 2016

51VA7luBneL._AC_US160_I like Borges: he’s another wonderfully learned, eclectic writer like Umberto Eco, who, of course, paid tribute to him in The Name of the Rose by naming the blind librarian Jorge… He’s an essayist in the spirit of Montaigne, too, offering thoughtful and provocative disquisitions on a wide range of subjects. I’ve read and enjoyed his collected short stories a couple of times, and decided to venture into his non-fiction.

In his early writings, you can see just where some of the later stories were going to come from: the ideas, the thinking is the same. There are some curious book reviews, and thumbnail portraits of various authors. Here, Borges is both compelling and perceptive, precisely because he zeroes in on his subject-matter from a very individual, and usually totally unexpected viewpoint. In a review he can demolish a book and a writer in very few words – Aldous Huxley comes off very badly – and equally swiftly praise writers such as Woolf and Faulkner. Joyce‘s Finnegan’s Wake is damned completely in less than a page, and he comes back to this stance on that novel a number of times in different places… Edward Gibbon and Walt Whitman also come in for some fairly fulsome praise.

I often reflect on which writers and books will stand the test of time, and it’s interesting looking at these reviews, a lot of which are from the 1930s and 1940s: some of the titles and writers we still recognise, whereas many have vanished without trace. He has, for instance, a curious and quite deep regard for GK Chesterton, whom almost nobody reads nowadays.

A good deal of the content of this collection is, however, rather dated, and presumably of some academic interest to students of Borges’ work; the good bits do need some searching out, but they are certainly here. His essays on Nazism, and Germany in the Second World War are very interesting. I’d never heard of Biathanatos, a defence of suicide by the poet John Donne; I was surprised by his liking of (some) science fiction, including Ray Bradbury‘s Martian Chronicles, and there’s a really good essay on the Shakespeare authorship controversy, from 1964, which was the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth. That one is both sensitive and quit sharply focused and interesting on language issues. The most moving essay is probably on his blindness and what he felt he shared with other writers who had lost their sight.

The Total Library is a Borgesian concept, a library containing every book which can be written, not only in every language, but in every non-language as well; it features in one of his most famous short stories The Library of Babel, and thanks to the internet and its possibilities, someone has actually created it and you can go and play with it here.



Ray Bradbury: The Day It Rained Forever

December 10, 2014


OK, I think I’m over Ray Bradbury now, and give The Martian Chronicles my vote as his best and the only one that is really worth the effort and likely to survive as a read in the future.

This collection was disappointing and felt very dated; too many of the stories had those twee and mawkishly sentimental portraits of smalltown US life that are charming enough when met once or twice, but do pall when they reappear time after time. At the end of the book, my overall feeling was, ‘Yawn. What was the point?’. And yet, I can’t deny that Bradbury uses the language beautifully – skilful and evocative descriptions, conjuring up that sense of nostalgia for a mythical, lost and unspoiled past: you can really feel yourself there…

The Cold War overshadows most of these stories, though that’s not the reason I find them rather dated. Atomic warfare lurks in the background, moves to the foreground, actually explodes and trashes the planet, yet it’s presented in an offhand and barely understood manner; that’s what’s really dated, the faux-naivete. Our world isn’t like that, and the pretence no longer washes.

There are two stories out of the two dozen or so that stood out:Dark They Were, And Golden-Eyed has the immigrants from Earth to Mars gradually physically transformed into Martians, members of the indigenous race that has (apparently) died out; they perceive this, try to resist, and ultimately don’t really want to. And The Rock Cried Out is much darker, a tale of revolution in some Latin American nation, where the tables are turned on American tourists and the couple get their comeuppance as they gradually see the world from the point of view of the colonised and oppressed. It’s made more acute by the sympathetic nature, the understanding and the niceness of the couple, to which the locals do not respond…

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.

Ray Bradbury: The Golden Apples of the Sun

November 26, 2014

9780380730391A collection of short stories, which I’ve reread, trying to work out whether I really rate him any more.  There are some surprises here – an eye-opening glimpse into the race-relations issues in the 1950s US, and a very prescient story which seems to address today’s issues about omnipresent and intrusive social media communications. Then there is the very famous time-travel story, The Sound of Thunder, which explores the idea that going back into the past – if it were possible – would be very dangerous, because of the possibility of a chain-reaction in changes to that past. I shan’t say any more lest you haven’t come across this story, which is one of the classics of the genre, and has been anthologised many times.

Bradbury is big on Mars – we need to remember that the Soviet Union hadn’t launched the first space craft when most of these stories were written – and the possibilities of colonising another planet and emigrating to it. He links this in to the old frontier days of the early United States. I’m planning to read his collection The Martian Chronicles next, as my final catch-up with him.

There’s an awful lot of dross, though. Stories written by the word to make money, published in long-dead magazines, with magic, witches and the twee-ness of small-town American life presented in a very saccharine or maudlin manner. And then there’s the Cold War, always lurking in the background, always ready to leap into Hot War unexpectedly. This last is a more convincing and genuine recurrent theme, though others have developed it better, I feel. I’m beginning to feel that Bradbury is now a name to which readers pay reverence as a pioneer of the SF genre, and the SF story in particular, without necessarily being all that familiar with much of his work, and that he will eventually fade into obscurity.

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