Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Classics Club: The Martian Chronicles

I was a late bloomer as far as Bradbury is concerned.  While my friends were discovering Bradbury and Vonnegut, I was engrossed in Austen and Shakespeare and Hardy.  The idea of "science fiction" (or "fantasy" for that matter) just didn't appeal to me; I had to grow into it.  As an adult, I came across Bradbury as I began to read the books that it seemed like I "should" read.  Fahrenheit 451 made me an instant Bradbury fan and I've been trying to catch up ever since.  I chose The Martian Chronicles for my latest, knowing it to be one of his most highly regarded and one that I should read sooner than later.

Wow.  No, I'm not being facetious.  It so often made me stop and think, "wow!"--not just for the story he unfolds, but for the amazing way he uses words in this book.  It is stunning.

As most of you know, The Martian Chronicles is a series of linked short stories, telling the story of Mars and it's people, of Earth's exploration and subsequent colonization, and of the end result.  Naturally, I thought a lot about colonization and the harm it has done over the years.  I thought about how often we do things, particularly as a nation, in absolute surety that it is the right thing, only to look back in horror years later.

I also thought about the cyclical nature of things: life in general, civilization in particular.

Bradbury also make me think about the power of words.  His masterful command of the English language, his ability to write volumes in a few sentences, his amazing use of words to set tone and mood. . . it is awe inspiring.

I thought about "space: the final frontier".  My husband and I have often discussed our belief that our world is such a violent one because there is no longer a "frontier" to explore.  We've discussed how, the roughs and toughs were most often the ones that went off to explore, lightening some of the violence in the "civilized" world.  I was interested to see that for Bradbury, too, the first Earthmen to go to Mars were those types.

I thought about how the line between science fiction and fantasy is so blurred, and about what makes a book "fantasy" or "sci fi".

 I felt the entire spectrum of emotions throughout these stories.  The Martian Chronicles made me sad, melancholic, nostalgic, and happy.  It gave me joy and pain.  I felt love, hatred, embarrassment and hope.  Putting it into words seems to somehow belittle the emotions, but it is all true.  Reading the Martian Chronicles was a highly emotional experience for me, due to Bradbury's ability to create such reality inside his stories.

I know that this will be one that I will reread; it felt familiar immediately, while still feeling new and vaguely threatening.
There were many amazing passages that made me stop, go back and reread.  Here are two favorites.

"He awoke to a tap on his brow.
Water ran down his nose into his lips.  Another drop hit his eye, blurring it.  Another splashed his chin.
The rain.
Raw, gentle, and easy, it mizzled out of the high air, a special elixir, tasting of spells and stars and air, carrying a peppery dust in it, and moving like a rare light sherry on his tongue.
Rain."  --from "The Green Morning"

"There was a smell of Time in the air tonight.  He smiled and turned the fancy in his mind.  There was a thought.  What did Time smell like?  Like dust and clocks and people.  And if you wondered what Time sounded like it sounded like water running in a dark cave and voices crying and dirt dropping down upon hollow box lids, and rain.  And, going further, what did Time look like? Time looked like snow dropping silently into a black room or it looked like a silent film in an ancient theater, one hundred billion faces falling like those New Year balloons, down and down into nothing.  That was how Time smelled and looked and sounded.  And tonight--Tomas shoved a hand into the wind outside the truck--tonight you could almost touch Time. --from "Night Meeting"

Michael Whelan's amazing cover art.