Ray Bradburys ‘The Martian Chronicles’. A Review.

This is a post from a previous blog. Thought I would add it here for posterity sakes…

I am re-reading The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I first came across this book in my teens, after watching the TV mini-series of it, and fell in love with it all those years ago (mid-’80s). Now, re-reading it after nearly 20 years I am still amazed by its prescience and intellect. And it’s much more potent now than it was back then. It’s quite interesting after reading a book on Christopher Columbus which gave an alternative insight into his legacy (see my previous blog), to see how another planet would be colonised based around the same principles. The Age of Discovery inaugurated by Columbus in 1492 died after the colonisation of America, and this colonisation was basically centered around the pursuit of wealth and eventual exploitation of man and nature. The pursuit of riches was the fundamental purpose and result of the discovery of the Americas. In The Martian Chronicles the same thing happens. Humans, facing an atomic war on earth around the year 2000, look towards Mars for their salvation. Martians exist, and have a highly rich and philosophical society. The first three expeditions to Mars are unsuccessful, with the Martians apparently fearing any outsiders and they kill the new explorers off, probably more as a way of defending themselves and their way of life. Come the fourth expedition and the Martians have all but died of chicken-pox, a disease which obviously has been contracted via the first three expeditions. Any similarities here and the Taino natives of the Caribbean and Americas? Yup, quite a bit. Spender, an archaeologist of the fourth expedition becomes dismayed of what has happened to the Martians and sees all too clearly the possible result of the colonisation of Mars by humans. He sees that Mars would be used as a base for nuclear weapons, be fought over and eventually contaminated by human culture and total disrespect and disregard of what had been before they arrived. The same thing happened to the conquest of the Americas. He sees in the Martian culture a deep, ancient way of life which was never allowed to get to the stage of what humans had turned themselves into. He knocks both Religion and Evolution, both attacking each other rather than peacefully co-existing together and both enriching each other. What the Martian civilisations had done was to combine them both and have a total respect for nature, to live with it and understand it and appreciate it as it is.

“..They quit trying to hard to destroy everything, to humble everything. They blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more of an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle. They never let science crush the aesthetic and the beautiful. Its all simply a matter of degree…”

And so Spender discusses this with the Captain of the expedition after he has gone native and tried to kill off some of the crew to try and stop the colonisation of Mars. The Captain sees this way of life and Spenders interpretation of their culture as pagan, but Spender says its about respect for what is; instead of trying to analyse the purpose of life, just live it as it is, accept it, don’t over-question it.

The book has religious overtones, but they are quite deep philosophical ones. However, if we did have the technology to colonise another planet, any planet, today, in all fairness it would be like 1492 all over again, with the rich having the first shares in it and it would be looked at as another source of enrichment. Kim Stanly Robinsons’ ‘Mars’ Trilogy of books (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) are also a good read about the future colonisations of Mars but based around a much more scientific explanation, and it does pose similar questions about the role of Transnational Corporations in any future space exploration. Interesting.

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