I’ve written before on the Barsoom cycle, and its influence on me. Mars has always held such a fascination for people, being the closest of our planetary neighbours. As our understanding of our solar system increases, our dreams of Mars become increasingly prosaic – less swords and princesses, and more dreams of survival and colonization.
One of the best books about Martian colonization, and one that stands at the intersection of all our Martian dreams would have the be the The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. The Chronicles themselves come in a deceptive humble package – a small collection of short stories and vignettes about humanity’s repeated attempt to explore Mars, followed by a final successful colonization. The Chronicles are thusly a “fix-up” in the manner of many other collections at the time, such as I, Robot.
While hypothetically a story about all of humanity colonizing Mars, the collection is really a story about America – which is appropriate, seeing as there are very few authors who had an understanding of America on such a deep practical and lyrical level as Bradbury. The stories begin with the failures of the first expeditions, which meet tragically gruesome fates due to native Martians. Once Earth diseases have eradicated the original Martians, the colonization of Mars gets into full swing – in this interpretation Mars is inhospitable, but still liveable. The world that the Americans build on Mars feels very reminiscent of the industrial and population boom of the 50s that was just starting, contrasting with the quiet remains of the old, delicate Martian cities.
Indeed, the Martians and their works are shown to be easily destroyed throughout the book, having a fragile quality to them. This suits the book’s meditations on the destructive side of humanity, from the physical aspects of nuclear war and rampant industrial to the more intangible but no less devastating effects of racism and anti-intellectualism. The book ranges over a wide array of topics, and yet keeps Mars feeling like a consistent place throughout, beginning to end. The stories within really feel timeless- reading them in 2020 it feels like the stories could have been written at any point past the 50s, with a lovely retro-science fiction sheen all over. Funny, sad and whimsical and equal measure, this collection remains unmatched to this day.