Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Martian Chronicles: A Book Report

I was an SF fan in my youth, but somehow I don't remember reading Ray Bradbury's rather famous collection of linked short stories. I finished them with mixed feelings. It's a mostly dystopian fantasy book, set, more or less, on Percival Lowell's Mars, a Mars of canals and deserts, populated by an ancient race and mostly stereotypical human invaders. For me, they are mixed in quality. He has a real poetic gift for creation of a numinous place. The places, though, are mostly peopled with stick figures, and the villains are routinely doltish and boring.

He can, however, write a helluva preface. A fragment:

All right, then, what is Chronicles? It is King Tut out of the tomb when I was three, Norse Eddas when I was six, and Roman/ Greek gods that romanced me when I was ten: pure myth.

If it had been practical technologically efficient science fiction, it would have long since fallen to rust by the road. But since it is a self-separating fable, even the most deeply rooted physicists at Cal-Tech accept breathing the fraudulent oxygen atmosphere I have loosed on Mars . Science and machines can kill each other off or be replaced .

Myth, seen in mirrors, incapable of being touched, stays on. If it is not immortal, it almost seems such. Finally: Don’t tell me what I am doing; I don’t want to know!

What a way to live. The only way. For by pretending at ignorance, the intuition, curious at seeming neglect, rears its invisible head and snakes out through your palmprints in mythological forms. And because I wrote myths, perhaps my Mars has a few more years of impossible life. One thing half-assures me: I am still being invited back to the California Institute of Technology.

Bradbury, Ray (2013-05-21). The Martian Chronicles . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I welcome opinions of those who see it differently.