The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury

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Critical Evaluation

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The Martian Chronicles was published in 1950, bringing together a selection of earlier short stories that Ray Bradbury rewrote for the publication, as well as new texts written for the volume. At the suggestion of his publisher, Bradbury added bridging stories to connect the various tales in a more coherent fashion. In 1997, a revised edition was published adding two stories while dropping one. The dates of the individual stories were also advanced by thirty-one years to keep them in the future.

Along with Fahrenheit 451 (1953), The Martian Chronicles continues to be one of Bradbury’s most influential works. It has never been out of print, selling more than four million copies and being translated into twenty-seven languages. The book was adapted into a television miniseries in 1979. It has also been adapted to radio, for the stage, and into a computer game. After receiving a favorable review by literary critic Christopher Isherwood, the text entered the literary mainstream.

Although it is a collection of short texts, The Martian Chronicles can be classified as a novel because of its thematic unity and the composite chronicle style in which it is written. However, the twenty-six different stories belong to different subgenres, including parody, mystery, horror, adventure, and dystopian fiction. They also incorporate a variety of themes and discourses such as race, gender, and colonialism, all against the background of Bradbury’s rather unscientific and highly poetic Martian scenery.

Bradbury himself is generally perceived as a science-fiction writer despite the fact that he has written texts in many other genres. Those of his texts that are labeled as science fiction do not concern themselves overly with technical details, as does hard science fiction. Instead, they rely on human characters and a sense of magic, so they are generally described as science fantasy. One could even call The Martian Chronicles a science or space fairytale, reflecting Bradbury’s childhood in small-town midwestern Waukegan, Illinois. Bradbury himself has cited Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Ohio Small Town Life (1919) and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) as major influences. Another major influence on the tales was the pulp magazines of the early twentieth century, chiefly Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars series (1912-1943).

The central theme of the colonization of Mars critically reflects on the colonization of America, with the Martians in the role of the Native Americans, being wiped out by the colonizers. However, this central theme also reflects on the frontier myth as a major element in American history, making the colonization of Mars and the destruction of its culture inevitable.

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