Author: Ray Bradbury
Published: 1997 (my edition)
Age Range: adult
Genre: science fiction
Cover Score: **
Overall Score: ****
First Sentence: One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets.
This book began as a series of short stories, first published in sci-fi magazines during the 40s, before being pulled together as a complete work in 1950. Because of this, it sometimes feels episodic and disjointed but somehow the overarching story still flows.
The year is 2030 (an interesting note, the tales were originally chronicled from 1999 to 2026 but as those actual years approached the dates were pushed back to 2030 and 2057) and man has arrived on Mars with dreams of a new utopian society. But soon enough the commercialism, elitism and other -isms take over. The Martians are mostly killed, subdivisions and cities are built and life proceeds much as it has on earth. Earth, meanwhile, has problems of its own. Those on Mars hear all about the wars and destruction on the radio and worry about the people they've left behind. Soon there is a mass exodus and Mars is left abandoned and destroyed in its own way. But the end hasn’t come just yet.
Mirroring the tragedies of the British Empire, the colonization of North America and the crimes perpetrated against the Native American Indians, various wars and the current threat of nuclear annihilation, the stories give an interesting view of the evolution of humanity. On the surface it seems as if the message we take is that man is inherently evil and will ruin anything they touch despite their best intentions. But it is those same intentions that make us human and have led to inventions, progress, the arts and other positive things just as much as they’ve given us war and corrupt governments and religions. We have a long way to go but all is not lost.
I love this discussion between two priests who have gone to help ‘convert’ and ‘save’ the Martians. Earlier in the exchange they discuss the nature of sin and the idea that since these Martians are more advanced in some ways (and obviously not so much in other ways) and have physical bodies very different from humans there will most likely be a host of new ways to commit sin that the priests won’t have encountered before and they must be on guard. This eventually leads to the following discussion on the nature of God:
At nightfall Father Peregrine and Father Stone were high in the hills. They stopped and sat upon a rock to enjoy a moment of relaxation and waiting. The Martians had not as yet appeared, and they both felt vaguely disappointed.
“I wonder—“Father Peregrine mopped his face. “Do you think if we called ‘Hello!’ they might answer?”
“Father Peregrine, won’t you ever be serious?”
“Not until the good Lord is. Oh, don’t look so terribly shocked, please. The Lord is not serious. In fact, it is a little hard to know just what else He is except loving. And love has to do with humor, doesn’t it? For you cannot put up with someone constantly unless you can laugh at him. Isn’t that true? And certainly we are ridiculous little animals wallowing in the fudge bowl, and God must love us all the more because we appeal to his humor.”
“I never thought of God as humorous,” said Father Stone.
“The Creator of the platypus, the camel, the ostrich, and man? Oh, come now!” Father Peregrine laughed.
But at this instant, from among the twilight hills, like a series of blue lamps lit to guide their way, came the Martians.
I love imagining God as someone with a (pardon me) wicked sense of humor. And I love that Bradbury mixes religious musings into an alien story.
Bradbury passed away not too long ago and I failed to make note of his passing here earlier so let me do so now. He was one of those people with a gift, but one that wasn’t always appreciated by the masses. Our book club just finished reading Something Wicked This Way Comes and everyone described how they had a really hard time getting into it yet those same people had fallen completely under the spell of Dandelion Wine when we read it last year. His writing style is unique and takes some getting used to.
He has a bit of the Stephen King twistedness about him, dark and sometimes disturbing, but it’s infused with poetry and imagery and truth. I like to think of him as sort of a literary Picasso. He uses words (or in Picasso’s case, colors, shapes and subjects) that we all know but combines them in ways that are unfamiliar and jarring and make us just a little uncomfortable. But after we’ve sat with them for a while, made them a part of our lives, lived with them we begin to see the genius and the beauty behind them for they portrays things that are recognizable in a way that betrays their perfection, flaws, current reality and future potential all at the same time. And sometimes that’s hard to accept.
If you haven’t read any of his works I implore you to do so now. If you want something a bit more ‘normal’, go for Dandelion Wine, a highly fictionalized account of Bradbury's own Midwestern childhood. But if you want a taste of his dark genius, start with The Illustrated Man (short stories, easy to digest one small piece at a time) or Fahrenheit 451. All brilliant.
It's hard to believe this is the last post! It's been a long and busy summer at the library and elsewhere (and I still have a few things to squeeze in before Labor Day when summer is 'officially' over.) I decided not to tally up the pages read and how many of which author and genre and whatnot like I did last year. But I did make a few discoveries and decisions along the way.
One-Next year will be declared the year of the re-read. I've got so many favorites I haven't had a chance to revisit in awhile and I'm going to make sure I give myself permission to return and savor them. They may become the focus of the summer reading extravaganza (if i do it again!) as well. Second-I've already mentioned the lack of photos I've taken the past few months, so in September I'm going find me one of those photo-a-day challenges that float around every now and then and see what I can do with it. We'll see what happens!