Friday, February 4, 2005

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Another audiobook from the library and a good one. It doesn’t make the ‘must get’ list, but still good and worth listening to. It’s more a collection of short stories than a novel and is, in my opinion, a perfect example of how science fiction, although often set in the future, is usually more about the present than the future.

This book was written in 1950 and you don’t need to look at the dust jacket to figure that out. The male characters are mostly stereotypical dunderheads straight out of the 1950s, the kind to shoot things they don’t understand and call their buddies “Mack” or “Rizzo.” Once guy, Sam Parkhill, opens a hot dog stand on Mars and is convinced he’s going to make a ton of money until a few Martians show up and he winds up killing one. One unstereotypical character is Spender, whom Parkhill in an earlier story hates and wants to shoot in the head, who discovers the lost knowledge and technology of the ancient Martians and decides to protect it by wiping out his human companions on this and all subsequent expeditions to Mars. The description of Spender meeting a Martian and surrendering his gun and clothes to him is quite unique, as it is actually describing the mental transformation that Spender undergoes, seeing himself in the end more as a Martian than an Earthman.

There are other stories direct from the 50s. There’s the hardware store owner who desperately tries to keep all the “niggers” in his town from getting on a rocket and going to Mars because if they go he won’t have them to boss around anymore, and there’s Walter Grip, the last man left on Mars after everyone runs back to Earth to fight a war, who finds himself stuck with the last woman, a fat, candy-sucking puppy of a woman, who springs a wedding dress on him and wants to get married.

But despite all this dated material, the prose is crisp and the themes are universal. Accept that we’re making social commentary from an Eisenhower perspective, and it’s a pretty good read.

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