Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Copyright 1950

Preface by Kim Stanley Robbins
Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robbins provides a modern examination of the phenomena of life on Mars and how it revolutionized science fiction writing. The origins of the belief of life on Mars are found in a misinterpretation of Giovanni Schiaparelli’s use of the term canali in describing his telescopic observations of Mars. Astronomer Percival Lowell took the word’s Latin meaning – channels – to mean literally the discovery of canals on Mars.

This pseudo revelation of construction by sentient beings on Mars touched off a phenomena of popular culture in science fiction writing. H.G. Wells authored a terrifying tale of invasion of the earth by creatures from Mars called War of the Worlds. Edgar Rice Burroughs was soon writing his own account of a heroic warrior fighting the men of Mars in his John Carter of Mars series of books.

The possibility of life on Mars was accepted by fact by the scientific community with the primitive astronomical resources of that era. That scientific mantle was carried forward to writers of fiction who popularized the notion in literature. The most prolific of those authors was Ray Bradbury.

1997 introduction by Ray Bradbury
The inspiration for The Martian Chronicles comes from a classic American novel of small town life in the American Midwest. It was when Bradbury read Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio that he was inspired to transfer Anderson’s evenings on the front porch in the mythical Ohio town to Mars that inspired Bradbury to write a series of short stories telling the story of the rise and fall of human civilization on Mars.

I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read Winesburg, Ohio. I do know that it is loosely based on the northern Ohio town of Clyde which is approximately an hour from where I live. I know enough about the stories it contains to know that it must have also influenced Bradbury’s writing of a similar book he wrote about his own hometown of Waukegan, Illinois entitled Dandelion Wine.

January 2030: Rocket Summer
The stage for the conquest of Mars is set as a rocket lifts off from a small Ohio town. The winter air is instantly heated by the rocket’s vapors and for just a few seconds, the small Ohio town warms to summer like temperatures as the rocket escapes the atmosphere. The first manned mission to Mars is one its way.

This story was a mere 500 words or so. Spare, lyrical prose is Bradbury’s trademark on display here. This was originally published in Planet Stories in Spring 1947.

February 2030: Ylla
A Martian woman is haunted by dreams of aliens from the third planet landing in a neighboring town. Her husband is distraught and jealous over these dreams and tries to dismiss them as aberrations. However, as Ylla’s dreams become more vivid and she more consumed by them, her husband resolves to be on hand to greet the visitors from the third plant.

We are left to observe the fate of the first Mars expedition from afar. However, there is no doubt as to their fate. Was originally published in MacLean’s January 1, 1950 edition.

August 2030: The Summer Night
A Martian lounge singer starts crooning a tune in Earth English, startling bar patrons and her band with her strange speech. Martian children start reciting an old earth nursery rhyme as they play their Martian games. The second expedition approaches. . .

A short interlude between the first and second Martian expedition. Bradbury builds the tension as the mental effects of the approaching earth men stretch beyond the tragic Ylla to the masses of Martian Society.

August 2030: The Earth Men
The second Mars expedition arrives on Mars on a hot summer day. They find a remote country home. Despite their pleas that they are arrivals from the third planet on Mars to find life and establish relations with it, the matron of the house is too preoccupied with housework to take the time to help them. But it doesn’t take long for them to attract the attention of the natives. They do to the earth men what we would do to a person who claimed to be an alien from outer space. . .

Bradbury shows us he can write mild irony. I’d forgotten this story and the twist came as a pleasant surprise.

March 2031: The Taxpayer

An irate Ohioan stands along the fence of the rocket base and declares, as a taxpayer, he’s got the right to be aboard that rocket.

A brief interlude between the second and third expeditions.

April 2031: The Third Expedition
The third expedition land on the village green of a quaint, Midwestern town. Its name is Green Bluff, IL and it is inhabited by the dead friends and relatives of the 16 man crew. They are warmly received. . .at first.

This is the best known (and the best) of the stories from The Martian Chronicles. It was originally published in 1948 as a short story entitled Mars is Heaven. In 1970, the Science Fiction Writers of America voted to name it one of the best science fiction stories of all time.

It is also one of the most adapted works by Ray Bradbury. It was adapted for radio for radio shows such as Escape, Dimension X, and X Minus 1 in the 1950s. Richard Matheson adapted it (and the entire book) for television in a television miniseries in 1980 and Bradbury himself adapted it for his Ray Bradbury Theater that ran on HBO in the 1980s as well.

This story represents one of the world’s most brilliant writers at his very best.

June 2032: -- and the Moon Be Still as Bright
The fourth Mars expedition arrives safely and most of the crew is eager to celebrate. The captain remains pensive and one crew member, Spender, is downright lugubrious and refuses to participate in the celebrating and merry making that the crew feels necessary after a successful mission. Soon, Spender disappears and comes back with information about the Martians, and a sample of their technology.

This story was originally published in the magazine, Thrilling Wonder Stories in June 1948. Some versions of the book split Spender’s story into two parts, adding it to “The Settlers.” In my recently published version, Spender’s story is encompassed in this story and The Settlers is an interlude between the fourth, semi-disaster Mars mission and the arrival of settlers.

This is another of Bradbury’s stories that made its way into other media. It was transcribed in radio shows, Dimension X and X Minus 1, although told in a different manner to give it more “action” necessary to make it work in an electronic medium. It is also a pivotal part of the Martian Chronicles television miniseries, adapted by Richard Matheson for television. It is perhaps the highlight of the entire six hour broadcast.

August 2032: The Settlers
Troubles on Earth and the ability to travel to the fourth planet lead to a large immigration from Mother Earth to the new frontier of Mars.

December 2032: The Green Morning
A young man dedicates his life to planting trees on Mars. A Martian version of the American folklore hero, Johnny Appleseed. So begins the ecological transformation of Mars into something more closely resembling Earth.

February 2033: The Locusts
Humanity arrives on the doorstep of the new Martian colony. Early colonies are established and man’s conquest of its newest colony begins in earnest.

This is a short vignette to illustrate the rapidity of and enthusiasm for man’s colonization of Mars.

August 2033: Night Meeting
A man on his way to a party passes through the ruins of an ancient Martian town. On the road, he encounters a Martian who insists that the ruins are actually a bustling city where he lives. The man insists the human colony on the horizon is the establishment of man upon a planet of extinct natives. Neither is able to see the other’s reality, nor are they able to make physical contact. Perhaps there is a duality of time and place on Mars.

This story makes me wonder if Ray Bradbury wasn’t experimenting with LSD at the time of its writing. Descriptions of smelling and tasting time seem born of hallucinogens. Great story demonstrating that all civilizations rise and fall capriciously.

This is the only full length story in the Martian Chronicles book that was not published elsewhere first.

October 2033: The Shore
Much as those seeking a new lease on life, whether it be fortune seeking or simple employment, waves upon waves of settlers move to Mars, landing in rockets upon its “shores” much as the European immigrants landed on the shores of America seeking the promise of a new life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

First came the colonists who arrived in The Locusts. Now arrive the tradesman, the entrepreneur, and the laborer to add a new dimension to human society on Mars. The new arrivals are all Americans fleeing political turmoil on earth. No Europeans, no Asians, or any other race express interest in establishing themselves on Mars.

November 2033: The Fire Balloons
With civilization shaped by man comes organized religion and Christian Episcopal priests arrive on Mars with hopes of finding the natives and bringing them to Christianity. Father Peregrine and Father Stone set off for the Martian deserts to find the natives, forsaking their mission to provide religious guidance to the multitudes of humans in the new colonies. There, they find an ancient race having already achieved spiritual harmony and perfection.

We get a glimpse of Martian culture as it was eons before its demise. This race gave up its passions, prejudices, and strong emotions to find peace within themselves and evolved from physical beings motivated by physical sensations into beings of pure energy and intellect.

These concept of superior beings composed purely of energy and intellect is pervasive in science fiction. In Star Trek, Space 1999, and in several movies, this alien so far above us on the evolutionary scale is a frequent ally, enemy, or provocateur. This is an excellent stand alone story with rich characters.

February 2034: Interim
With new American colonists and settlers comes American architecture and culture. This short story details how a Martian colony -- built by Ohioans – very closely resembles a small Midwestern town.

Another of those short vignettes to illustrate the rapidly progressing colonization of Mars.

April 2034: The Musicians
A group of kids secretly travels to a ruined Martian city to see the remains of the natives after crews have gone through and burned their bodies in their abodes. They tickle the scorched ribs like a xylophone.

This story is a Martian Chronicles original.

May 2034: The Wilderness

Two women of Independence, MO prepare to leave their home town, their homes state, their home country for a new planet. They take one last tour of their old haunts, reminiscing and enjoying each other’s company. When they arrive home late that night, a message arrives from one woman’s boyfriend Mars, of which but one word is intelligible – love. The next day, they join hundreds of other women in the migration to Mars to join the men who pioneered the Red Planet.

One could easily reach the conclusion that The Martian Chronicles is an allegory for European settlement of America. There are parallels. The various missions that meet with disaster. The native population wiped out by chicken pox much as small pox took so many Native Americans. Bradbury taps that allegory here as the women, as they slip into sleep, imagine this is how women must have felt the night before boarding the Conestoga wagons and heading west.

This story first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1952

2035-2036: The Naming of Names
From small communities of settlers the towns evolve into communities of men, women, and families. Entrepreneurship thrives. The towns bearing names such as Detroit II dot the Martian landscape.

This brief narrative transitions the story from one of settlers conquering a frontier to the development of a society on Mars.

April 2036: Usher II
With the evolution of society comes government and with government comes those who want to govern. Censors arrive on Mars to prevent the spread of decadent material such as fiction. A wealthy Mars settler holds a party with a Poe theme in his very own replica of the House of Usher. When the censors, known as the Moral Climate Monitors arrive to shut down the party, they get their own education in the works of Poe. . .

We see the roots of Fahrenheit 451 in this early Bradbury work. The censors purged the world of Earth of all fiction and works of imagination. They were determined to get to Mars before it could become a refuge for renegade bibliophiles.

This story was originally published as Carnival of Madness in Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1950

August 2036: The Old Ones
Mars was heaven, now it’s Florida! The elderly make their way to Mars to retire in this brief interlude.

September 2036: The Martian
An elderly couple come to Mars to retire and try to put the death of their only son behind them. But one cool Mars evening, their son returns to them, just as he was when he died years prior. They welcome him and try to pretend that he is their son and his death never occurred. But a tragic trip to town reveals what the father had always known to be true: the being was not his son. It was all things to all people and his involuntary doppelgangery starts a near riot as each person in the colony sees the person they want to see most.

This is a signature Ray Bradbury story. After the Golden Age passed and the techies took over science fiction, the writing that evoked emotion in the reader got lost in the need to explain exotic technologies. This story is on of Bradbury’s finest.

It first appeared in Super Science Stories, November 1949

November 2036: The Luggage Store

Father Peregrine stops by the luggage store to discuss the rumors of war eminent on earth. The purveyor of travel accoutrements realizes that business is about to take a turn for the better as Mars settlers begin the mass exodus of Mars to return to Earth to be with loved ones left behind.

This story is the turning point in the saga of Mars colonization. For almost five years, men of Earth looked to Mars as a sanctuary from the political and social strife rampant on Earth. Now, with war on Earth an almost certainty, it looks as if Mars may be abandoned nearly as quickly as it was colonized.

I wonder about Bradbury’s perspective here. It would seem to me that the people on Mars would be grateful for being so far removed and so detached from the unpleasantness about to unfold on Earth. Logic would dictate more and more people would flee – legally or illegally from Earth to the refuge of Mars, not the opposite.

November 2036: The Off Season
A retiree from Earth has constructed the first hot dog stand on Mars at the crossroads of two major highways. But a visit from a few of the world’s remaining Martians frightens him into murder. The Martians pursue him, not for revenge, but in an effort to inform him of important developments. After a chase through the ruins of Martian cities on sand boats, the man is caught. The Martians give him a land grant that entitles him to half the plant. That evening, as he and his wife watch the blue-green light of Earth turn a fiery red, they realize that the 100,000 settlers due into the new colony probably won’t be arriving. Instead of incredible riches from their entrepreneurial effort, they will instead see an off season in their trade.

Martians appear in several stories in the Martian Chronicles, always in a different guise. They appeared as lost love ones to the men of the second expedition. They appear as blue balls of light to Father Peregrine as he seeks to bring them to Christ. Here, they are blue robed beings wearing gold masks. This would appear as discontinuity by most established writing paradigms in science fiction. But if you look at the only advanced civilizations we know, none of them dress exactly alike. Bradbury is subtly demonstrating that different cultures and different races existed on Mars just as they do on Earth, each with its own way of dressing, communicating, and behaving.

This story first appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1948.

November 2036: The Watchers
All across Mars, people venture out into the night to watch as Earth dissolves in a ball of fire. Radio reports from Earth reach Mars, indicating that nuclear war is under way and the planet Earth is all but doomed. The people watch. At first their hearts ache, but they quickly pacify their fears with whispered false platitudes of reassurance.

December 2036: The Silent Towns
The towns of Mars are silent now. All but a few humans have returned to Earth and its war. Left behind is a miner, who did not hear the cries to return to Earth and was left behind. For days, he basks in material wealth and physical pleasures in solitude. The solitude is shattered when a phone rings. Missing the call, he sets about finding what he believes, and hopes, is a woman. Prayers are answered, but hopes unfulfilled.

This tale works well as a stand alone story. The man’s deductive reasoning in finding the right phone number strains the writer’s credibility, but somehow, Bradbury makes the reader accept it by creating strong anticipation.

This story was First published in Charm, March 1949.

April 2057: The Long Years
There’s one last rocket on Mars, captained by Captain Wilder, who led the fourth expedition to Mars. Wilder encounters Dr. Hathaway, his ship’s physician from the successful fourth expedition. Thirty years have passed since they landed on Mars, and Hathaway shows every one of those years on his face. Yet, time has not touched his family. His wife has not aged. His children have not grown. Wilder learns of the greatest technological achievement in Mars-human history.

This is definitely one of the stronger stories in the book. Bradbury has a knack for plumbing traditional emotion in the science fiction setting as Hathaway’s conflicted emotions about his creations and leaving his artificial family behind develop. This was perhaps the strongest story brought to the screen in the 1979 television adaptation written by Richard Matheson.

August 2057: There Will Come Soft Rains
Man is gone from Mars. All that’s left behind are the deserted towns and decaying technology that was man’s life on Mars. The reader observes an automated home going through its daily routine of cooking, cleaning, playing music, and maintaining a household that left years ago. Time grinds finely on Mars as it does everywhere else in the universe. As the years pass and the daily tasks go on, the machinery begins to malfunction.

I enjoyed this story but would not categorize it as one of the strongest in the book. It does lend itself well to radio drama. It was recorded for numerous radio shows through the 1950s and 60s, including X Minus 1 and Dimension X This story is radio drama at its best.

The title comes from the Sarah Teasdale poem of the same name. It was originally published in Colliers, May 6, 1950.

October 2057: The Million Year Picnic
A solitary rocket lands on Mars, discharging a family on a “fishing” excursion. They travel down the canal as their father explains the true nature of their trip to Mars. They find a town along the canal to call home. The father burns all of his “earthly” papers and declares the family to be Martians.

The entire story itself was told in abbreviated form on an episode of Escape! which at that time was hailing Bradbury as one of the young, great writers on the science fiction scene.

So it ends as it began on Mars. This story served as a masterful ending to a well told tale of the rise and fall of mankind on Mars. This story was another that worked well in the television miniseries, artfully written by Matheson.


  1. I loved this book. Thank you for writing these summaries. It really helped me to actually get what Bradbury was trying to tell his readers.

  2. Thank you for your kind words. Glad to know somebody read it.