April A-to-Z: must-read books
The Martian Chronicles (1950)
By Ray Bradbury
Nineteen Fifty was a long time ago. It would be easy to pick out the peculiarities which cultural changes and scientific discovery have made passé, and equally pointless. Criticism is ever so easy, and the constant delight of the idiot. All things ever conceived are both useful and useless, depending upon the perspective. For those with a little more evolved and sensitive mind, especially if you’re a guy, Bradbury is a gold mine. A guy, I say, because Bradbury, unapologetically, was a boy, and a sensitive one, and never in life did he lose that capacity for youthful imagination—not simply imagination, I stress—but the youthful variety. And as youths, boys and girls tend towards very different interests, Not that I can propose any reasons why females shouldn’t connect with Bradbury magic, whether rocket ships are normally their thing or not.
Yesteryear’s science fiction is like a genre of its own: a sci-fi realm with a twist of nostalgic fantasy in terms of speculative direction not ultimately supported by interim scientific discovery. And this sub-genre, if you will, has a charming time-travel-ish feel of its own; like an alternate reality.
The Martian Chronicles is a roster of 26 short stories, each compelling, heartfelt and cautionary. Or call them 26 chapters of a novel if you wish, one of tremendous emotional scope. For together they tell a cohesive story, but each entry has the structural independence of short fiction.
Like all of his sci-fi work, Chronicles contains the requisite speculative science content, but the onus is all on people; regular ol’ humans with their crutches, emotions and frailties. I don’t consider Chronicles a Bradbury entry point though. If you’re looking for your first taste of him, start with The Illustrated Man perhaps, then R is for Rocket or S is for Space; all short fiction collections. Save novel Fahrenheit 451 for later too.
This book is a must-read for any Bradbury fan or any young man with a curious or empathetic mind.
A passage from The Million-Year Picnic:
“Now I’m going to show you the Martians,” said Dad. “Come on, all of you. Here, Alice.” He took her hand.
Michael was crying loudly, and Dad picked him up and carried him, and they walked down through the ruins toward the canal.
The canal, Where tomorrow or the next day their future wives would come up in a boat, small laughing girls now, with their mother and father.
The night came down around them, and there were stars. But Timothy couldn’t find Earth. It had already set. That was something to think about.
A night bird called among the ruins as they walked. Dad said, “Your mother and I will try to teach you. Perhaps we’ll fail. I hope not. We’ve had a good lot to see and learn from. We planned this trip years ago, before you were born. Even if there hadn’t been a war, we would have come to Mars, I think, to live and form our own standard of living. It would have been another century before Mars would have been really poisoned by the Earth civilization. Now, of course—“
They reached the canal. It was long and straight and cool and wet and reflective in the night.
“I’ve always wanted to see a Martian,” said Michael. “Where are they, Dad? You promised.”
“There they are,” said Dad, and he shifted Michael on his shoulder and pointed straight down.
The Martians were there—in the canal—reflected in the water. Timothy and Michael and Robert and Mom and Dad.
The Martians stared back up at them for a long, long silent time from the rippling water…