The Martian Chronicles is an odd collection of stories about the colonization of Mars by Earth. The stories begin with an almost comic book feel, which continues with many of them, even though the message is ultimately serious, about the destructiveness of American culture. (Only Americans come to Mars.)
As with many futuristic stories, Bradbury doesn’t get it quite right, rendering them dated in these times. The stories take place beginning in 1999 and continuing for about 30 years, yet many features of the tales reflect the 50’s, when the stories were written. Of course, even the notion that Mars would be habitable for humans without space suits is a funny one for us today. Most shockingly, there is a story about all the black people leaving Southern towns for Mars, supposedly set in 2009, that is queasily stereotypical, both of the Southern whites and the African-Americans, even for the 50’s. And having shown the African-American people a modicum of sympathy in that story, Bradbury never mentions them again.
The stories begin with a series of expeditions to Mars, where the exploratory forces are killed by Martians, not because the Martians fear invasion but just sort of accidentally. The first human to Mars is murdered by a Martian in jealousy over his wife, whom the human hasn’t actually met. In fact, the Martians don’t even realize they’re being invaded. They are telepathic, but their telepathy doesn’t seem to extend to figuring out what’s going on and what a danger these people are. By the fourth story, most of the Martians have been wiped out by disease brought by the Americans. When they appear, though, the Martians seem to be residents of superior civilization to ours.
Overall, my impression of the stories is ambiguous. In many ways they seem childish, although all together they convey a powerful message. In one story that seems to be a frank indictment of McCarthyism, a wealthy man whose library on Earth was burned by government forces who have proscribed all works that aren’t realistic comes to Mars to build his own House of Usher. When government officials come to destroy it for the same reason they destroyed his library on Earth, he gets his revenge and honors Poe at the same time. It struck me that in the frontier environment Bradbury depicts, the government forces wouldn’t be that strong or present (or they would control everything, and there would be no frontier environment).
The stories are beautifully written, especially the descriptions of Martian cities and landscapes. I just think that Bradbury has more to offer us in other works, as classic as this one is. Try Fahrenheit 451 or Dandelion Wine instead.