Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Though The Martian Chronicles consists of chronologically arranged stories and sketches having to do with the exploration and colonization of Mars at the end of the twentieth century, Ray Bradbury has provided enough unity to justify calling the work a novel. The book contains fourteen stories and twelve sketches, though one might dispute the proper classification for a long sketch, “The Musicians,” about children playing among the dried corpses of dead Martians, and for the brief story, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” about the death of a mechanized house in California which continued to function for years after an atom-bomb blast killed its human occupants. These pieces can be divided according to phases in humanity’s relationship to Mars. The first seven pieces are concerned with attempts to complete a successful expedition to Mars. The next fourteen pieces move through colonization toward exploitation of the planet. The next four cover the desertion of the colonies as people return to Earth after an atomic war begins in 2005. The last story tells how a remnant of what was best on Earth, having escaped the final conflagration, begins again on Mars. Within this structure, three stories stand out for their thematic importance in tying the whole work together: “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” which ends the section on expeditions, “The Off Season,” which ends the section on colonization and exploitation, and “The Million-Year Picnic,” the final story. Only the fourth expedition to Mars is successful. Each of the first three is destroyed, in part because of the telepathic powers of Martians. The first two men are killed by a jealous Martian husband whose unhappy wife has dreamed of the arrival of an attractive Earthman. A Martian psychiatrist kills the second crew as the only cure for their captain’s perfect hallucination; apparently, thinking that one is from Earth becomes a serious mental disease on Mars. The third expedition is killed in what at first appears a diabolical plot. The Martians create a hallucination which convinces each member of the crew that his lost loved ones have been given a second chance at life on Mars. Having made the crew feel fully at home, the Martians kill each member in the night. The story becomes a little odd when the illusion of a small town continues through the funeral for the dead crew; the Martians continue to “be” the dead relatives, at least until “their” dead are buried. This oddness may be explained in a story which comes near the end of the next division of pieces. In “The Martian,” one of the few remaining living Martians appears among Earth colonists as one who unwillingly becomes the person whom those about him wish most to see. This story resonates with that of the third expedition, suggesting more complexity in this unusual “telepathic” power to become the person whom someone else desires. When the fourth...
(The entire section is 1186 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
“Rocket Summer” takes place in January, 1999. It is winter in Ohio, where the first rocket to Mars turns the cold into a summer-like warmth. “Ylla” takes place in February, 1999, on Mars. Through a telepathic connection, Ylla K. dreams of the captain of the first rocket, Nathaniel York, arriving on Mars. Out of jealousy, her husband Yll K. kills him. “The Summer Night” takes place in August, 1999. Their growing telepathic connection with Earth manifests when Martians sing songs in English.
In “The Earth Men,” which is set in August, 1999, Captain Jonathan Williams and his crew are perceived on Mars as insane Martians. Their appearance and rocket ship are believed to be telepathic manifestations of their madness. Diagnosed as incurable, they are shot by their Martian doctor. After they are dead, the “illusions” remain. The doctor, thinking he must have become infected with the madness, kills himself.
“Taxpayer” takes place in March, 2000. Fearing an atomic war, Pritchard, an ordinary citizen, wants to be a part of the third expedition to Mars, but he is turned away. “The Third Expedition” is set in April, 2000. The titular expedition reaches Mars. The Martians use the illusion of a small Midwestern town, populated with deceased relatives of the expedition’s crew members, to lure them into a deadly trap.
In “—and the Moon Be Still as Bright,” which takes place in June, 2001, the fourth Earth expedition to Mars finds that the remaining members of the already-dying Martian civilization have been killed by chicken pox, which was brought to the planet by one of the earlier expeditions. Jeff Spender tries to defend the ancient Martian civilization, killing several members of the expedition before he is finally killed by Captain Wilder.
“The Settlers” takes place in August, 2001, when the first colonists (as opposed to explorers) arrive on Mars. In “The Green Morning,” set in December, 2001, Benjamin Driscoll acts as a latter-day Johnny Appleseed, seeding and magically transforming Mars. “The Locusts” takes place in February, 2002, as more colonists arrive on Mars, further terraforming the planet.
“Night Meeting,” set in August, 2002, describes a chance meeting of human worker Tomas Gomez and Martian Muhe Ca. They are from different times, and each questions the other’s reality before finally accepting it.
In “The Shore,” which takes place in October, 2002, further colonists arrive, all...
(The entire section is 1023 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In the 1940’s, Bradbury had established himself as a highly popular short-story writer. When a Doubleday editor encouraged him to try connecting some of his stories into a unified, novelistic collection, Bradbury quickly responded with The Martian Chronicles, a group of stories about people from Earth colonizing Mars.
The idea of the colonization of Mars had long fascinated Bradbury. When he produced The Martian Chronicles, he had published more than ten Martian stories, and he continued to produce more after the book was published. This book became the first of several Bradbury works that are called novels not because they have the traditional plot characteristics of the novel but because they are somewhat unified collections of related stories, rather like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919). Bradbury repeated this form with varying success in The Illustrated Man (1951) and Dandelion Wine.
The Martian Chronicles is an apt title. Bradbury structured the book as a loose chronicle, beginning in 1999 with the first expedition to Mars and ending in 2026, with what is probably the last. The chronological ordering establishes a strong forward movement in the first one-third of the book, which deals with four exploratory expeditions from 1999 to 2001. Roughly the middle one-third contains stories and episodes which, though placed from 2001 to 2005, are not very sequential. They seem more like a gathering of incidents illustrating aspects of a colonial period. The final third of the book, though it spans 2005 to 2026, really concentrates on the beginning and the end of this period. In 2005, atomic war begins to destroy Earth civilization, draws most of the Martian colonists back to their home planet, and effectively brings an end to space travel. In 2026, Earth is devastated, but a remnant of idealists from Earth escapes to Mars, hoping to start over.
While the overarching structure of a chronicle binds the book together at the beginning and end, there are other important unifying elements. One major element is the metaphor of the frontier. Bradbury repeatedly returns to the idea of Mars as a new frontier. The planet is a new world (like America), populated at first by predominantly peaceful, intelligent beings much like humans, though they have telepathic powers and a slightly different technology. The Martians find themselves playing the role of Americans Indians in the frontier metaphor, resisting invasion somewhat haphazardly until almost completely...
(The entire section is 1041 words.)