Monday, October 01, 2012

Book Review - The Martian Chronicles

Aside from hearing that The Martian Chronicles is a fabulous book, I had no expectations before diving in. I knew it was a book about life on Mars, but didn't know much else. I wasn't sure whether to expect Heinlen's Stranger in a Strange Land or Burroughs's A Princess of Mars. What I found was very distinct from either of those.

The book is structured in a series of short chapters, each of which felt like it could stand on its own as a distinct short story. Each chapter (perhaps with the exception of some of the shortest ones) had their own fun and interesting sets of character & environment developments, plot twists and story arcs. At the same time, they are all bound together by the passing of time from the first story to the last story and the consequences and effects of each story on the life and world of Mars.

Unlike the other 'life on Mars' books I mentioned above, this book envisions a race of Martians living very much like Earthlings. In fact, for the first little bit I thought I was reading about Earth inhabitants living on Mars. Instead they were Martians but with some of the Earth habits and quirks you might stereotypically find in TV shows from the 50s and 60s. As the story progressed, the Martians definitely became their own distinct race with their own huge differences in behavior, community, rules and expectations. I really enjoyed the way Bradbury did this. He made the Martians immediately relatable by giving them Earth-like behaviors and traits but then quickly made them unique and intriguing by expounding on the differences of their world and their race.

Within a few pages, we find that Earth is about to make contact with Mars. Again and again and again.

The results are consistently humorous and intriguingly provocative. The interactions between Earthlings and Martians is a fun and interesting commentary on the way we all interact and deal with the unknown. I absolutely loved laughing at the ridiculous and over the top reactions and interactions while at the same time thinking about the truth of the behaviors and wondering why it is we do the things we do.

It was slightly off-putting the way Bradbury seemed to ignore some of the scientific realities of Mars. I acknowledge that this is a work of science fiction and that it was written in the first half of the 20th century, but some of the elements struck me as a little odd for the first few chapters (such as the Earthlings being able to breath on Mars, the abundance of life both in terms of humanoid creatures and in other animals). The way some of the behaviors mixed with mid-20th century America, I sometimes felt disoriented by the lack of "true" Martian planetary realities. Fortunately this was very easy to ignore once I really dug into the story. And thanks to the fast pace of the storytelling combined with short chapters and a short overall book, I found myself completely immersed very quickly and thoroughly enjoying the tale without worrying about "reality."

As a whole, I absolutely loved this book. The full stretch of the story was very engaging from the initial Earth-Mars contact to the final pages of the book. I also love the way the book is structured into a series of shorter almost stand-alone stories. I had quite a few favorites but I love that I can quickly and easily return to and reread or share these favorites without worrying too much about them being "out of context." I really loved the combination of silly humor, amazing sci-fi creativity and thoughtful social commentary. Definitely and A+ recommended read.

5 out of 5 stars

View all my reviews


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's been years since I read it, but I do remember enjoying it. The movie was very 70's/80's cheesy though.

Brian Miller said...

excellent book....fav chapter...the house of usher....good stuff...