There's an old cover of The Martian Chronicles that features a man wearing quintessential 1950s garb. He looks like Johnny Cash, and is holding a pistol and binoculars, the firm set of his jaw allowing no doubt as to his intentions in regard to Mars.
Another cover shows a little blue circle beside a big red one. The cover with several shadow people wandering a red landscape is pretty cool, as is the one showing a solitary figure standing amid bleak ruins.
Some of the covers (the book has seen many editions) are bizarre. One shows a blue guy in a Superman cape spreading his hands over a Martian city. One shows a couple of red Martian natives sitting on a wall above an alien country. One shows someone in a robe with the original Star Trek symbol where his/her face should be.
The variety of cover art and interpretations of The Martian Chronicles gives you some sense of the contents of the book. The stories are as different from each other as the surfaces of Earth and Mars.
Like many of Ray Bradbury's books, this isn't a novel in the normal sense. There are no main characters, no consistent themes, and no single plotline (except the story of the terrestrial colonization of Mars). People have tried to identify Bradbury's influences, and he's identified a few himself, but ultimately the only place any of this could come from is Bradbury's imagination.
The Martian Chronicles is the history of Earthpeople settling the Red Planet. What they find there is a strange land, strange natives of an ancient race now dying out, and the same kind of human problems they faced on Earth, like greed, jealousy, and murder. For every story of individual humans, however, there's a story about the whole epic project and its fallout.
If you're looking for blasters, monster attacks, and giant sluglike crime lords, you're looking in the wrong place. But no one comes to Bradbury for that. You come to Bradbury looking for wonders, terrors, and beauty, as much in the genius of his prose as in the brilliance of his imagination. You'll find those in plenty here.
In the first story, "January 1999: Rocket Summer," the inhabitants of Ohio briefly experience summer in the afterglow of the first rockets to Mars. In the final story, "October 2026: The Million-Year Picnic," the chilling culmination of the exodus from Earth manifests in a flickering reflection on the surface of a canal.
Sure, this is science fiction. But it's more than that: Bradbury isn't happy unless he's showing us what we're really like by showing us what never was. Behold The Martian Chronicles, and see Earth more clearly.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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