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Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES Story by Story

Extollager

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Good reviews, Bick. It's definitely a great book, and I'm glad I first read it an advanced age. I appreciate it's human and poetic qualities more than I would have when I was young.
That's interesting, since I suppose I'm like lots of people in that it seems I first reading this when I was 15 or so... and I think I kind of liked it and yet it didn't make a big Bradbury fan of me. That would have been about when I was reading Edgar Rice Burroughs!
 

Randy M.

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Yes, didn't he say F-451 was his only science fiction work? Nice critique of Ylla, Randy.
Thanks, Bick.

I had planned on going through story by story, but you've done that so instead I'll build on a couple of things you said.

The Third Expedition
This is a strange short story in a way, in the sense of the changes in mood throughout the work. It starts off pretty straight, then moves increasingly into a fantastic and somewhat humorous scenario, and ends up almost in horror territory. I found it was one of those that I wasn't sure about while I was reading it, but having finished it, I really liked it.
Given his fame and place in American literature, every so often I need a reminder that Bradbury started out in Weird Tales and I think this story provides that function in the book. He was an essential writer during that transition from HPL and M.R. James antiquarian horror to the modern horror story that probably started with the early work of Fritz Leiber and Robert Bloch. (I think I've mentioned on this forum how Bradbury's "The Crowd" seems to me like the best Leiber story I've read not written by Leiber.)

Going a step further, I think I read in The Twilight Zone Companion comments from either George Clayton Johnson or Richard Matheson that they and Charles Beaumont (all script writers for TZ) and Rod Serling were influenced by Bradbury's fiction. If "Usher II" feels like a story Matheson could have written for Roger Corman's best ever but never-made Vincent Price movie, "The Third Expedition" feels like a direct precursor of Twilight Zone; sort of the darker side of Serlings' "A Stop at Willoughby".

In a sense, then, The Martian Chronicles is a mixed collection: some s.f., some fantasy, some horror. Perhaps oddly I think that and his rounding off the book by returning to characters from earlier stories contributes to the feel of a fully-realized novel in spite of the episodic, short story format -- the variety of life and the orchestration of emotional response along with the underlying play of melancholy and hope give a sense of a fullness of experience, and does it in a remarkably compressed work.

Side-note: About horror, what's interesting to me is that some of the horror comes from the Martian perspective. "Ylla" can be read as Martian terror at the imminence of invasion and/or, as you said, Bick, as the portrait of a foundering marriage; it can also be read as a subtler comment on race relations than "Way in the Middle of the Air", an inversion of the sexual jealousy of white men toward black men given the stress Bradbury puts on his description of the Martians. For all its aching melancholy, I think "The Martian", which I found quite affecting, also qualifies as a horror story from the Martian point of view.

-And The Moon be Still as Bright
Straight into another story without a linking piece (or 'vignette' as Randy called them), for a change. This is a good story, well told. The minor characters (crew of the fourth mission to Mars) are typical 1940's bawdy 'spacemen-in-hats' type characters and unappealing - but this is purposeful from Bradbury. The Capt of the mission and the main protagonist, the archaeologist Spender, are rounded, thoughtful and more gentle in their outlook. Spender sees how Man will ruin Mars as he has Earth, and decides something must be done. In its championing of the thoughtful anti-hero and its consideration of ecology and historical value, its reminded me strongly of some of Simak's work.
I like this story almost in spite of itself. It's Bradbury getting a bit preachy, but somehow he carries it off. And Captain Wilder may be my favorite character in the book.

Night Meeting
This short story is... absolutely fantastic. I wont say too much, but I loved it. Pure fantasy, with little (no) explanation of "why", it's all imagery and mood. The dialogue crackles, and the sense of strangeness is without peer. Wont be forgotten in a hurry.
Agreed. And agreed on your assessments of the later stories, too, with an additional thought on "There Will Come Soft Rains": I think this story expands beyond commentary on our dependance on machinery to comment on the hubris of the vast numbers of humans who organize their lives and environment toward a goal of predictability which they suppose will assure safety and security, but mostly leads to routine, conformity and fear of either physical or intellectual adventure (thus the premise of "Usher II" which feels like a preliminary working out of the premise of Fahrenheit 451). The machines aren't just performing meaningless functions, they are performing planned, programmed and choreographed functions around planned, programmed and choreographed lives -- at a precise time the table unfolds, the cards are dealt; at a precise time, the cards are disposed of and the table is folded back in storage; someone had planned at those exact moments exactly what he/she and his/her guests would be doing, and at which exact moment they would stop. These are people comfortable within the confines of their urban or suburban lives, who disregarded the unpredictability and dangers of life at a price.

I think, if we view "There Will Come Soft Rains" this way, "The Million Year Picnic" makes more sense than just a knee-jerk or commercial need for a more hopeful ending. There had been a spotty hope throughout the book -- in an odd way, Spender is a symbol of hope for a more mature and thoughtful view of the wonders around us, be it the wonders of Mars or the wonders left behind by the Martians. Even the not entirely successful story of the Martian Johnny Appleseed shows the hope of engagement with your environment and the energy to change it productively rather than just overrun it. This family, then, is an example of those who didn't entirely fall into conformity and false comfort, of adults who viewed the world with some thought and recognition of its dangers and the dangers posed by the men in charge, and acted accordingly.

That's interesting, since I suppose I'm like lots of people in that it seems I first reading this when I was 15 or so... and I think I kind of liked it and yet it didn't make a big Bradbury fan of me. That would have been about when I was reading Edgar Rice Burroughs!
I finally read The Martian Chronicles in my late 30s after reading several other books by Bradbury with mixed feelings; it was the first book by Bradbury after reading which I went, Oh! That's what other readers see. I've been a fan ever since. I think, in spite of the exuberance of his language, Bradbury was writing for adults; or maybe more accurately, writing for the kid still at the core of the adult, though it may take an adult to appreciate his writing.


Randy M.
 

Extollager

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Okay, so: top 3 stories for me in this book, now I've finished it:

1. There Will Come Soft Rains
2. Night Meeting
3. Ylla

Honorable mentions for "The Martian" and "-And the Moon be still as Bright".
I reread your first two choices this morning and agree with your ranking of them. "There Will Come Soft Rains" hit me harder this time than, I think, on previous readings. Its reputation as a great sf short story is deserved.
 

Bick

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Many thanks for the additional critique and comments, Randy - very interesting, and I think you are right in your added comments on "soft rains". I don't have time right now to comment further, but wanted to say I appreciate your post while I remember.

Glad you liked those top stories upon re-reading Extollager.
 
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