- Series: The Grand Master Editions
- Mass Market Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Spectra; Grand Master Ed edition (June 1, 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780553278224
- ISBN-13: 978-0553278224
- ASIN: 0553278223
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.5 x 6.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 872 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #568,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Martian Chronicles (The Grand Master Editions) Mass Market Paperback – June 1, 1984
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From "Rocket Summer" to "The Million-Year Picnic," Ray Bradbury's stories of the colonization of Mars form an eerie mesh of past and future. Written in the 1940s, the chronicles drip with nostalgic atmosphere--shady porches with tinkling pitchers of lemonade, grandfather clocks, chintz-covered sofas. But longing for this comfortable past proves dangerous in every way to Bradbury's characters--the golden-eyed Martians as well as the humans. Starting in the far-flung future of 1999, expedition after expedition leaves Earth to investigate Mars. The Martians guard their mysteries well, but they are decimated by the diseases that arrive with the rockets. Colonists appear, most with ideas no more lofty than starting a hot-dog stand, and with no respect for the culture they've displaced.
Bradbury's quiet exploration of a future that looks so much like the past is sprinkled with lighter material. In "The Silent Towns," the last man on Mars hears the phone ring and ends up on a comical blind date. But in most of these stories, Bradbury holds up a mirror to humanity that reflects a shameful treatment of "the other," yielding, time after time, a harvest of loneliness and isolation. Yet the collection ends with hope for renewal, as a colonist family turns away from the demise of the Earth towards a new future on Mars. Bradbury is a master fantasist and The Martian Chronicles are an unforgettable work of art. --Blaise Selby
"Bradbury is an authentic original."—Time magazine
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UPDATE: January, 2017
I have let this warning stand for 4 years, but it is no longer accurate. There are (apart from used books) three versions of The Martian Chronicles on this Amazon page: the Kindle, the hardcover and the trade paperback. I have looked at the table of contents of each.
The Kindle version is a censored version with altered dates, Way in the Middle of the Air missing and The Fire Balloons added. Apparently this kindle version is no longer available, I cannot verify that, but I hope it is true.
The hardcover version also is a censored version with altered dates, Way in the Middle of the Air missing and The Fire Balloons added.
The mass-market paperback, however, I am delighted to say is a better edition, with the original dates restored, and the original chapters that the 1958 version, and all subsequent versions up to 1998, had. Thank you, Simon and Shuster, for responding to reader outrage and restoring what never should have been altered. And thanks to the book-buying and reading public for demanding that a book widely touted by its sellers as "a classic" be, in fact, a classic.
By the way, there is nothing wrong with Bradbury's story "The Fire Balloons", it's just not part of The Martian Chronicles, it's part of The Illustrated Man, look for it there.
My favorite stories were probably "And The Moon Be Still As Bright" and "There Will Come Soft Rains". The kindle version does not include "Way in the Middle of the Air", which was removed in 1997 because history has made it obsolete more-so than the other stories. That's too bad, as it really fits in with the first question I ask above. I tracked it down in an old paperback copy or you can seek it out in other Bradbury collections.
On rereading it, I’ve found I still really like it, though probably not for the same reasons I did back when I was twelve or so. It’s a book ultimately concerned with the ambivalent nature of man -- a deep-seated greediness married to a gentler, more altruistic side -- and the cyclical nature of change. It traces the settlement of Mars by humans, which results in the accidental genocide of the native Martians via chickenpox and the humans’ attempts to change Mars into a place more comfortable to them. They plant trees to increase the oxygen level in the planet’s atmosphere (a move which, though not directly addressed in the book, strikes me as the sort of thing that would have disastrous downstream consequences) and build towns that look just like the ones they left. Some even build hot dog stands. But when atomic war breaks out on Earth, the settlers go rushing back*, leaving a few isolated, lonely souls behind and Mars virtually uninhabited. The book ends with small clutches of escapees from Earth** touching down illicitly to start a new life there. They declare themselves Martians, and the cycle seems to start over again.
That’s about as close to a plot as the book has. I think it’s technically considered a novel, but really it’s a collection of inter-related short stories. There are a handful of characters that make multiple appearances -- most notably, members of the Fourth Expedition to Mars, the first to survive landing there in no small part due to the fact that one of the previous three expeditions wiped out the Martians with chicken pox -- but this is not a character-driven book. Really, Bradbury’s focus seems to be on capturing the way life on Mars shifts as the humans take over the planet. And the flexibility of the book’s structure allows him to do that with a wider, more varied lens than he would’ve had if he’d tried to do it using a more traditionally novel-like framework. By making each chapter a discrete episode in an era, he’s able to explore many different reactions to Mars and many different ways of living there.
The structure of the book, actually, is one of the few things I did remember about the book from the way back junior high times. And I’ve always been intrigued by it. It makes sense with Bradbury -- he’s a master of the short story. Through the interconnected short stories, The Martian Chronicles is able to give you a sense of what it would be like to live there at any point in the long process of settling, and gives you an understanding of the long process itself.
The other thing that sticks with me is the tone. In story after story, Bradbury writes in simple, almost quaint language, but does so in a way that communicates to the reader his trepidation and distaste with the frontier mindset of the settlers. In each individual story, it’s a quiet, subtle thing, like a warning he’s sending out that he doesn’t really believe will be heeded. A subtext lurking in the background. But over the course of the 27 stories, you get the message loud and clear. But the tone, I think, is at its strongest and most powerful in “The Musicians”:
Behind him would race six others, and the first boy there would be the Musician, playing the white xylophone bones beneath the black flake covering. A great skull would roll to view, like a snowball; they shouted! Ribs, like spider legs, plangent as a dull harp, and then the black flakes of mortality blowing all about them in their scuffling dance; the boys pushed and heaved and fell in the leaves, in the death that had turned the dead to flakes and dryness, into a game played by boys whose stomachs gurgled with orange pop.
That sense of innocent, thoughtless disrespect for the lives of people and civilizations that came before resonates through Bradbury’s writing in story after story. Sometimes, like in “The Musicians”, this is the focus of the story. But as often as not, it isn’t, it just lurks in the background, coloring how the stories fit together.
*This was about the only thing I found unbelievable about the book. I found it improbable that people would flee a safe planet to one in the throes of nuclear war rather than the other way around. I also wonder how feasible that is -- I mean, if s***’s blowing up all over, where are those rockets supposed to land again? But one gaping plot hole in a book this good I can overlook.
**This last story, “The Million-Year Picnic,” kept reminding me of that episode of the Twilight Zone where a pair of families escape an impending world war by building rockets and striking out for a peaceful, livable planet in the dead of night. Of course in the episode, that peaceful, livable planet is....EARTH! So it’s inverted, I guess, here. But still, same sense of tension and the same basic plot points.
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