(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)