||was browsing through a list of all-time great science fiction novels, and when I saw The Martian Chronicles on the list, I realized that I
had never read it! A mistake that I had to rectify. The Martian Chronicles was published in 1945, yet it mentions atomic bombs, so it must have been written after Nagasaki and Hiroshima were bombed in August. It is 241 pages
long in the paperback edition that I read. Because it was written so long ago, the science is completely wrong - Mars has water in its canals, a moderate climate, and a breathable atmosphere -
but you don't read this book for the science aspects of the story, The Martian Chronicles are read to relish Bradbury's evocative prose. Is there
a subgenre of lyrical science fiction? Because The Martian Chronicles certainly belongs in that classification, if such a classification exists.
The novel begins in the far future: January of 1999 (more than fifty years ahead!). Native Martians populate their ancient planet. They communicate via telepathy.
The first rocket from Earth arrives, but the Martians are less than welcoming. The second rocket from Earth suffers an equally tragic fate.
The Martian Chronicles seems more like a series of linked short stories than an actual novel. There is no character that appears in more than a few of the stories.
Indeed, many of Bradbury's characters are barely sketched in; many are nameless or only referred to by their title, such as ship's navigator. If the planet Mars can itself be called a character, then it is the
main character; Mars with its dead sea bottoms, dried landscapes and ancient enduring cities. Bradbury paints vivid pictures, and the reader cannot help but wish the actual planet had turned out to be closer
to his imagined landscape rather than the freezing, nearly airless (and apparently lifeless) planet that it turned out to be.
I copied a few paragraphs out the book because I was impressed with Bradbury's wordcraft. Here he describes the arrival of rocket from Earth on Mars:
The ship came down from space. It came from the stars and the black velocities, and the shining movements, and the silent gulfs of space. It was a new ship;
it had fire in its body and men in its metal cells, and it moved with a clean silence, fiery and warm.
Bradbury describes a storm on Mars, which awakens an Earthman camping in the open.
He sat up. He let the blanket fall and his blue denim shirt spot, while the rain took on more solid drops. The fire looked as though an invisible animal
were dancing on it, crushing it, until it was angry smoke. The rain fell. The great black lid of the sky cracked in six powdery blue chips, like a
marvelous cracked glaze, and rushed down. He saw ten billion rain crystals, hesitating long enough to be photographed by the electrical display. Then
darkness and water.
In this last excerpt Bradbury treats us to the thoughts of a man contemplating the empty Martian landscape, and his place in it:
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 on hollow box lids, and rain.
And going further, 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 theater, one hundred billion faces falling like those New Year balloons, down and into nothing.
Bradbury is perhaps most famous for his novel Fahrenheit 451, which everyone had to read in English class. But Bradbury was a master of the short story. I
know that long ago I read S is for Space and R is for Rocket and the impressive The Illustrated Man. I have a hazy recollection of reading Dandelion Wine as well. I should see if more of his books are available.