Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review - The Martian Chronicles

In the seventies I remember watching the Martian Chronicles TV series and promising myself that one day I would read the book that the series was based on. I can recollect very little of the episodes I viewed other than a fast food restaurant on an atmospheric Martian desert and alien land yachts cruising across the horizon. To a young boy this looked like a serious brand of Science Fiction unlike the Star Wars and Buck Rodgers I was used to.

I finally read the book this year and to say it's only a short novel I really struggled to get through it. It's not what I expected at all. This is 1950's style Science Fiction with a great deal of stiff upper lip, traditional family values and lots and lots of pipe smoking. It's more a collection of connected short stories than a novel and Bradbury uses the colonisation of Mars to reflect the ills and abuses he saw in 50's American society. The stories explore religion, racism and modern warfare amongst other issues, but in an obtuse way that is neither subtle or particularly engaging.

The features of the television adaptation are all present, but jumbled in an almost surreal collage of Martian folklore. None of the individual stories are satisfying or enjoyable, but the the tale of the deserted Walter Gripp in 'The Silent Towers' is straightforward and the prolonged story of Spender in 'And the Moon be Still as Bright' is at least thought provoking. The atmosphere of the book is its strong point, with a hallucinatory quality that lets you drift in and out of Martian life never really knowing if it is reality or a dream.

It's clear to see that the book has dated considerably and as a work of modern Science Fiction it doesn't quite hold water, however at the time of publication I'm sure it was a relevant piece of work with cutting edge social comment. Read the Martian Chronicles for a history lesson of the genre and be grateful that pipe smoking has gone out of fashion. There is little wonder that the first expeditions went so badly, when the astronauts turned up puffing clouds of noxious Condor fumes over the Martians. I'm glad I've read it but honestly can't recommend it.


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