More than just a short story collection, though different from a conventional novel, The Martian Chronicles
is what some may call a fix-up novel
(or, as Bradbury himself called it, the "half-cousin to a novel"), telling one big story with numerous, loosely connected smaller ones. The Martian Chronicles
is certainly a masterpiece of its kind. Utilizing the unique approach of the fix-up novel, The Martian Chronicles
spans more time than most stories (1999-2026), hosts more characters and events than most stories, and, through a series of wonderful vignettes, paints a much more detailed and atmospheric portrait of its setting, Mars, and the culture and events surrounding it, complete with multiple perspectives and varied locales. As a whole The Martian Chronicles
tells the story not of a single character or a single plot, but instead of an entire planet, a whole population. The main character is Mars, and indeed Earth as well, along with their respective inhabitants. Each story starts not with a word but with a date, chronicling the rise and eventual fall of Mars (paralleled with Earth), and also of humanity (paralleled with the Martians), feeling almost as if you're reading an actual historical account or timeline of a planet and its populace, all supported by the book's detached, non-involving, past-tense, third person omniscient narration. This makes the story all the more impactful, and terrifying, with Bradbury maintaining the perfect balance of the fantastic and the believable.
The beautiful thing about it is that, though perhaps at its best as a whole, each story can still stand on its own. Even the short world-building vignettes read like poetry by themselves. There's no blatant framing stories that so many other fix-up novels employ, but rather every story flows into the next while still being readable on its own. And of course, as with nearly every short story collection, some stories are better than others, but the very nature of the fix-up novel almost serves as a solution to this common problem; even though not every story is necessarily as good as the last, each and every story still adds to the overall quality of the book as a whole nonetheless. And not only does Bradbury provide great ideas, with tales comparable to the best episodes of The Twilight Zone
or The Outer Limits
, but he also provides beautiful, poetic prose to boot.
Bradbury says a lot of things about a lot of things in such a slim story. Colonization, War, Society, Alienation, Racism, and more are all topics covered in The Martian Chronicles
. And those are some pretty huge topics considering the time in which this was written. But it's never preachy or heavy-handed. Bradbury presents it in such a way that he isn't so much telling you what to think or even what he thinks, but rather he's merely showing you something and letting you decide for yourself what to think. The book is marvelously thought-provoking, nostalgic, tragic, scary, somber, hopeful, beautiful, and enjoyable all at the same time. Not exactly ambiguous in story but certainly in moral. The Martian Chronicles
is unlike anything I've ever read. It's not your typical pulp golden age sci-fi collection. It simultaneously feels like an epic and a small story, both personal and distanced, achieving a large scale through the repetition of small ones. A widely praised work, though probably still under-appreciated. Bradbury achieved near perfection with this one, crafting a great story in a stunningly painted world and writing what I think is one of the greatest science-fiction and/or speculative-fiction stories of all-time. Definitely a 4.5 out of 5 stars, perhaps even 5 on a re-read.
Click for my ratings/reviews for each story:
1. Rocket Summer (4.5/5) - A brief vignette to start things off. Describes the climate changes a rocketship brings to an Ohio winter, and in turn the lifestyle changes to the land's residents. Interesting story; wonderfully descriptive. Doesn't deal with where the rocketship is going or alien races or anything like that, but instead it's like a preface to all that; it shows how just the presence of the rocketship has already affected people on Earth before even leaving the planet, perhaps suggesting a future parallel of even more changes the rocketship will bring to Earth in the future. Perhaps in many more ways than just the climate. Mind you this was all achieved in about half a page, which is great because I can keep reading it again and again.
2. Ylla (3/5) - Even Martians got marital problems. A husband, jealous of his wife's romantic feelings about the coming astronauts coming from Earth which she sees in her visions, kills the the astronauts upon arrival. It seems that emotions really are the enemy of progress.
3. The Summer Night (2.5/5) - It seems that Martians are very quick to adapt human culture. So much so that they begin speaking Earthly languages and songs before astronauts from Earth even arrive. Through their telepathy they can sense them approaching. I can only wonder how much Earth culture the Martians would adapt when the Earthlings actually land on the planet.
4. The Earth Men (4/5) - Grim as hell. Nice little story about astronauts coming from Earth to Mars and, upon arriving, being treated as psychopaths by the Martians. The more sense you make, and the more believable you are only means that you're all the more insane. Makes references to the earlier story Ylla. My favorite of the longer stories in this collection so far.
5. The Taxpayer (3.5/5) - Another really short one. Again referencing events from previous stories in the collection. Seems like this is serving as a sort of prelude to the next story, and perhaps in the next story it will be discovered whether this poor taxpaying man was better off staying on Earth or not.
6. The Third Expedition (3.5/5) - And so the third expedition, just as the two before it, is another failure and another mystery. Shows just how blinding and dangerous nostalgia can be. A tale worthy of The Twilight Zone, though perhaps, like the worst of The Twilight Zone episodes, a bit too predictable, especially by today's standards.
7. —And the Moon Be Still as Bright (5/5) - I can very well say that this is the finest Bradbury story I have read thus far. It questions morals, nature, civilization, murder, and really just so many countless things. Such a fantastic story populated by some of the best developed and relatable characters I've seen in a short story.
8. The Settlers (4.5/5) - Apparently in some editions the previous story