The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ah, if only someone told me what to expect from this book. The way people described it, it sounded like any other space opera about human settlers on a fictional Mars. Had someone told me it was more Twilight Zone than Star Wars, I would've snapped it up a lot sooner.
The Martian Chronicles follows a series of short stories about the human colonization of Mars. But this book has none of the innocent optimism of most stories about space written in the 1950's. It's creepy and menacing, and ends on anything but a hopeful note. This posits a world where Martians kill the first human arrivals, first out of jealousy, then because they think we're crazy. As in War of the Worlds, though, our germs do them in, leaving us free to colonize Mars and destroy everything from those who came before. But then nuclear war happens on Earth, and almost everyone vacates to return to their families or help with the war effort. They would've been better off staying on Mars.
A lot of the book is a commentary on colonialism, erasure, and appropriation, while parts get into religion and the nature of God, and other stories illustrate the inherent destructive nature of humanity. Most of the stories end badly for the characters, but it's rarely because of outside forces. More often than not, people bring their misfortunes down on themselves.
My favorite story of the collection is "Usher II," about a man who re-creates Edgar Allen Poe's works in a ghoulish replica of The House of Usher, then uses it to punish those responsible for taking fantasy works out of circulation. It has shades of Fahrenheit 451, with a dash of schadenfreude. That one left me grinning wickedly.
It turns out that my mental comparison of these stories to The Twilight Zone is no accident. Ray Bradbury wrote several episodes, which I'd never realized. It makes sense, in light of how well he writes creepy, stay-in-your-head horror, but I'd never put it together before. This book definitely leans on his creepier side. If you liked "The Veldt" or Something Wicked This Way Comes, those will give you a much better idea of what to expect than most other SF of the era.
I wish I knew what I was missing out on, when I kept skipping over this book. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Hopefully my review will save you from making the same mistake I did.
I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Scott Brick. He has a very manly-man sort of delivery, making the stories sound sort of pulpish. Still, his delivery is strong, and he narrates clearly. There are some places where I had to adjust the volume, either because he had shouting characters shout or whispering characters talk in a very low voice, but, for the most part, it was good narration, and didn't detract any from the story.
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