Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (finished)

I just finished The Martian Chronicles (abbr. TMC) by Ray Bradbury.

One can tell by the title that the book is a work of science fiction.  It is a collection of short stories and vignettes that are loosely associated to each other.  Many of the stories were first published as stand-alone shorts in science fiction magazines and most were published cirque 1950.

TMC reminded me of episodes from the old Twilight Zone series hosted by Rod Sterling.  Each of the shorts from TMC could have been an episode from the TMC could have been an episode from the Twilight Zone.  Some of the Twilight Zone episodes may have been directly inspired by TMC (to put it kindly).

A strength of TMC is that is is easily accessible to a non-science fiction audience.  I can just imagine a teenage science fiction geek (male because I think that most science fiction geeks are guys but props to you female science fiction geeks out there) giving their non-science-fiction-loving girlfriend a copy of TMC.

Science fiction geek (SFC): Hey, you should read this.  I think you'll like it.
Hot non-science-fiction-loving girlfriend (HNSFLGF): Okay, I'll read it.  But only because I like you so much.  (and I know that when you graduate from college, you'll end up being a rich doctor or scientist who adores his wife and who'll understand my desire to be both a stay-at-home mom and a career woman at the same time).

...later on that week.

HNSFLGF: Well, I finished it and I liked it.  The stories were more about the human condition and how humans deal with their desires as opposed to rockets and rivets.
SFG: I'm glad.  Now that you've read one of my recommendation, I guess I'll read one of yours.  What recommendation do you have for me?
HNSFLGF: Pride and Prejudice of course.  :)

NOTE: I do recommend Pride and Prejudice for anyone that's interested.

A weakness of TMC is that many of the stories are campy and slightly corny (trite, banal), much like the old Twilight Zone.  Also, because the stories were written independently of each other, there are continuity problems.  Bradbury tries to connect the stories but that only adds to the confusion: some things are connected (some characters are referenced again and reappear) while others are not (black people all leave to go to Mars but we never hear about them again).

Bradbury seems to be anti-technology, which is ironic because he is a science fiction writer.  One of the themes of the book is that the ancient cities and history of the martians should be respected and venerated.  In contrast, his ideas of technology (I think that hot-dog stand symbolizes the ugliness of technology) and how humans wield it is condemning.

This is in stark contrast to another giant in the science fiction world, Isaac Asimov.  Asimov was a humanist that saw technology as a means for humans to achieve evolutionary enlightenment.  Asimov (like Roddenbury) looked to the future for the hope of man; it seems that Bradbury looked to the past.

Overall, I thought the book was good (not excellent but certainly not bad): some of the shorts were cute, some profound and so stupid.  This is a good read for those that don't have time to read a full novel because you can stop anywhere in the book without ruining the pacing of book.  Good times.

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