Ray Bradbury was particularly fond of Mars as a setting of his short stories and has often been considered as part of the ABC of the Science Fiction writers, Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. Albeit, James Patrouch distinguished Bradbury’s work, as it seems to belong more to a genre that he calls “Science Fantasy”, rather than classic Science Fiction. Bradbury himself admitted that his association with Science Fiction is due to a myth surrounding his persona, since he has had no pretension of being scientifically accurate, his Mars is always described in familiar terms, just as if he was referring to the American Midwest.1

In an interview, referring to Isaac Asimov, Bradbury said: “I recognize his genius, but he was too technical. He told you how to build a rocket, I wanted to fly one.” Which explains the lack of plausible scientific explanations in his work, where a breathable atmosphere suddenly appears on Mars and Time Machines work according to mysterious mechanisms.2

Ray Bradbury: Bradbury in his Beverly Hills, office in 1986

The Martian Chronicles are considered as Bradbury’s first novel by some scholars due to their internal coherence, nonetheless they are more generally thought of as a collection of short stories about the human colonisation of Mars which followed a nuclear blast on earth. This theme does not appear uniquely in the Chronicles, as Bradbury later on repeated it in other works, like The Illustrated Man. Bradbury conveyed his apocalyptic vision in his works, projecting the solutions for the problems of contemporary America in a distant future. His works have always been more about the analysis of social problems than actual Science Fiction, the idea of Mars colonisation is not different from the Christian belief of life after death. There is a life in a distant future, which will better present day’s condition.3

His Martians are bourgeoise men and women, who embody the same social problems plaguing the American middle class, such as the “War of the Sexes”, the rat race and the mundanity of suburban life. For example, when the Martian husband Mr. K notices his wife’s longing for a “tall and handsome stranger” to bring her away from the monotony of her life, he reacts in an extremely human way, going out armed waiting to shoot at any stranger.4

 

But how does Bradbury choose to organise this chronicle of the colonisation of the red planet? In 1999 the first rocket arrives on Mars from Earth. He proceeds to narrate the different steps of human settling on the planet, until 2026 when a nuclear blast destroys earth and the settlers go back home. Then the cycle starts again when the Thomas family goes back to Mars. The narration is full of irony, represented by Bradbury’s choice to annihilate the Martian by using a childhood disease very common on earth, but also in the tragic ending he writes for “The Off Season” where an amusing story about human greed – the opening of a hot dog stand – ends with the destruction of humanity by atomic blast – as the seller looks at the planet exploding, thinking that all his potential clients are dead.5

FIRST EDITION OF THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, SIGNED BY RAY BRADBURY

In the book there are multiple references to Greek mythology, for example to Jason and the Argonauts and to a secret weapon they call “hydra’s teeth”. Earth history and culture is, thus, adopted and readapted by the Martians, whose culture is described to the readers through the figure of the archaeologist, Spander. He is a double of Bradbury himself, sharing with the author the epithet “the lonely one” and also his attachment to the past.

Spander is not only the author’s alter ego within his work, but also a renewed version of the romantic Byronic hero, in particular when he uses Byron’s poem “so we will go no more a rowing” to express the contrast between the melancholia of his persona as opposed to the unchanged happy status of the world outside his mind. This sets the scene for his violent rebellion, for his gradual isolation and for the growth of a longing for another life which also characterised the Romantics. His revolt his caused by the earthling’s indolence towards the Martians and their planet, as they immediately began to pollute the environment and live a dissolute life. They need to follow a better path, to take the Martians as examples of virtue, unfortunately they were exterminated by a disease, which also contributes to Spender’s pain.6

 

Nonetheless, the theme of the nuclear blast is beneficial in the end, as it serves to wipe off the social and environmental problems that humans have created on the planet and to give them the chance to start afresh. Nonetheless this rises an important ethical question: is the search of another world only motivated by our need for survival, once we have destroyed our planet? Moreover, as a child of the Cold War and Atomic Angst, his views are extremely close to those of the liberal left, the atomic blast for him is inevitable not because of the politic of aggression of some countries, but because it represents the logic ending of the arms race.7

Bradbury goes quite personal, throwing himself in his stories and making of his narrative an embodiment of his ideas. For example, he explores the themes of censorship, ecology and aesthetics, all dear to his heart. His prose is nowhere near perfect, yet his readers forgive the imperfections thanks to his imagination that sticks with the reader. Elements of antiquity are engrossed in a modern and technological setting, where the new inventions are used to analyse human conditions.8

By Simona Montella

 

 

[1] Reid Robin Anne, Ray Bradbury: A critical Companion, Greenwood Press, London, 1955, pp.25-26.

[2] Weller Sam, Listen to Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews, Melville House Publishing, 2010, ch.XI

[3] Eller Jonathan, Touponce F. William, Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction, pp.105-107

[4] Weiner Lauren, “The Dark and The Starry Eyes of Ray Bradbury”, The New Atlantis, No. 36, Summer 2012, pp. 86-87.

[5] Reid Robin Anne, op. cit., pp.135-138

[6] Reid Robin Anne, op. cit., pp.144-148

[7] Weiner Lauren, op. cit. 11-13

[8] Forrester, Kent “The Dangers of Being Earnest: Ray Bradbury and the Martian Chronicles”, The Journal of General Education, Vol. 28, No. 1, 1976, pp. 50-54.

 

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