Wednesday 19 August 2009

Book review: The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

the_martian_chronicles I’ve just had a complete light bulb moment.  I have just finished Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and I didn’t really enjoy it and felt quite disappointed.  You see, I quite like classic science fiction and I have loved the Asimov and Philip K. Dick books that I have read so far.  The notion that I could read this 1950 classic and not ‘get it’ left me feeling quite unsettled.

So I went onto Wikipedia to try and figure it out and the first thing I read was: "The Martian Chronicles is a 1950 science fiction short story collection...".  I didn’t realise this was a short story collection and was completely confused about the lack of coherence in the plot!  It makes so much more sense now but I fear that I might have ruined the my experience of the book by not appreciating each snippet for the short story that it was. 

I don’t feel completely silly.  The story is presented in chronological order from Earth’s first three unsuccessful landings on Mars between February 1999 and April 2000 to the eventual colonisation of Mars and the subsequent destruction of the Martian population and the atomic war and destruction of Earth.  I imagine that had my brain been in “short story mode”, I might have appreciated this book more. 

I recently joined the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads.  The idea is that you read one fantasy and one sci-fi book a month and then discuss them.  I certainly don’t read enough sci-fi so I was glad to find this great group!  By the way, if you’d like to friend me on Goodreads, this is me.

The Martian Chronicles was therefore the first book I read for the book club and I am glad to see that there are a couple of other people who didn’t really get it.

*** Spoiler alert: do not read if you don’t want to read spoilers ***

What did I like about the book then?  I loved the 1950’s Jetsons feel. (Wait a minute, how can the Jetsons have only had 75 episodes and yet had such a profound effect on my life???).  I loved the idea of space travel being a simple fact of life and of humans zooming off to Mars.  The notion of Earthlings destroying the Earth and atomic war taking place while we watch from the next planet was really creepy and intriguing.  My favourite story was “The Third Expedition” and its depiction of finding a mirror of pre-Depression rural Iowa on Mars.

A lot of the snippets in the book were really charming but I found it quite a struggle to wade through the book which does make sense as I am not a great fan of short stories.  I’ve been left really desperate for an epic and fantastic book but as I gaze over my bookshelves, I am not sure if I have such a book here at home.  Maybe it is time to reread some of my Horowitz or Nix favourites?

I’m not going to rate this book.  Which doesn’t mean it gets a zero rating, it just means I read it in the wrong frame of mind.  I’ve been a lifelong fan of Bradbury; I used to love The Ray Bradbury Theatre and “The Playground” was perhaps the most powerful piece of television I ever watched.  I’ll just say that if you’re new to sci-fi and looking for somewhere to start, then perhaps The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov or Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick is a better place to start.



  1. I didn't realize it was a collection when I first stared reading it either, but once I got that, it made a lot more sense.

    It's really interesting when read as a story that chronicles the whole cycle over hundred of years. Societies building on one another and older ones passing into legend make this a surprisingly dark book, too.

    My favorite story was the one where the African Americans in the South decide to leave (wait -- that sounds wrong). It's an interesting look at racial tensions and how people deal with those things both at the macro and micro level. It's really well told.

  2. I'm not a big fan of science fiction, but I've always loved me some Ray Bradbury. Like you, I grew up watching The Ray Bradbury Theatre.:)

  3. @ cromely: I agree - I loved the idea that the African Americans were surpassing their captors and moving on! It was fabulous!

    @ Yes, his theatre was great - I always preferred it to The Twilight Zone.


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