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The Martian Chronicles is my choice for “A book you own but haven't read yet” in the 50 Book Challenge.


The Martian Chronicles


I have the 1970 edition, which I think is important to note since different editions were often edited to include different stories. I'm iffy on how I feel about this one, to be perfectly honest. I'm actually surprised by all of the 5 star reviews. I waffle between 2-3, but hopefully writing this out will help me solidify my position. I love Bradbury (though I do have more experience with his short stories than novels, and this is, as he said, a book of shorts masquerading as a novel), but I found this one to be a disappointment overall.

There are definite signs of his writerly, sci-fi prowess, but not as much as I would have hoped. I particularly liked 'Ylla', one of the opening stories, which masterfully described a truly alien landscape. It was probably the strongest story, imo. The rest of the beginning was, for me at least, a bit distracting with some serious adverb abuse, and it just seemed a little too try-hard until he found his footing and started to flow better. His description is strong throughout, though.

I do like the over-arching (and true to life) theme of humans always seeking to conquer and attempting to mold a unique land into their familiar vision. The book is full of some good social commentary regarding the 50s, when it was written. That surely counts for some of the undying love.

But there were just too many weaknesses for my tastes. I was surprised by the lack of imagination for a spec fic novel, let alone one that's supposed to be in everyone's top-whatever lists. It was The 50s in a mildly futuristic setting. Maybe that was the point of some of the social commentary, but I kind of expected a sci-fi master to stretch technology a bit more than what was done here. Earthling colonists were still listening to their phonograph records, using typewriters, and filling their gas tanks – on Mars – for $1.50. Usually sci-fi tries to postulate some newer technological advances, especially if they're set in the future and working with inter-planetary travel. The rockets (and Martian setting) were the only things remotely sci-fi.

Worse, for me, were the attitudes. This book is chock full of misogyny. Not just that all of the astronauts, scientists, and, with the exception of Ylla, main characters were men. Even Martian 'men' put their women in their places. Female characters were flat and unrealized ('Oh! If there's anywhere I could find a woman on this planet, I should check the beauty parlors! Silly biddies with their mud masks and coifs.'). The racism in 'Way in the Middle of the Air' at the half-way mark was truly unsettling and insulting. I get that it was supposed to be (as part of that social commentary and all), but it was hard to read. And I just rolled my eyes and tried not to vomit as the racist MC wondered why all those [insert one of several slurs] were so eager to head to Mars when they're gaining rights every day, and, why, some cities even have anti-lynching laws now! Not cool. Even if it's 'ironic', that's pretty bad. That character was supposed to be unsympathetic, so mission accomplished, but I nearly put the book down.

Overall, I liked the descriptions and theme/social commentary – especially with much of it applicable today – but I really just expected more from Bradbury. 2.5 stars, I guess. Not the masterpiece I expected.