The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Red Scare Meets the Red Planet
It’s almost no surprise that Ray Bradbury’s collection of short stories and vignettes about the American colonization of Mars has more to do with life in America, the threat of nuclear war, and questioning the irreconcilability between religion and science, than it has to do with the actual colonization of Mars.
The stories and vignettes are loosely connected, but in general they are disparate with completely different subject matter and tone. Bradbury’s writing style is, as always, a unique symphony of nostalgic prose that lends itself well to the topics he chooses to explore.
In one of the short stories, “Usher II,” the story’s main character has a house built on Mars that is a replica of the house of Usher from Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The bureaucrats on Earth in charge of morality and content have banned the vast majority of all fantasy literature, and now they are making their way in order to Mars to enforce the destruction of the new house of Usher.
The house is filled with replicas of terrors from Poe stories, which would be easy to avoid assuming one had read Poe’s tales. But alas, those who seek the fall of the house of Usher fall into a very clever pit created by the main character, whose sole joy is to strike back at those censoring and destroying culture.
In many of the stories, there is a nearly endless war occurring on the Earth, and the characters in these stories often spend more time talking about conditions on the Earth, or watching it up in the sky, then they do worrying about Mars.
So even for readers who don’t particularly enjoy science fiction, this bulk of the book is an enlightening view about the state of McCarthyism and the red scare of the late 1940s and ’50s, reminiscent of Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was short (less than 200 pages in paperback), and the stories themselves were each very short. So even if there were some that weren’t entirely to my liking, they were over quickly. And beyond enjoyment, I think there is a lot to glean from this book in terms of cultural understanding of a bygone age.
And, if anything, Bradbury’s writing style is borderline wordporn and a delight to read.