The Martian Chronicles – Chapters Eighteen thru Twenty-three

Chapter Nineteen – Usher II (April 2005/2036) first published as Carnival of Madness in Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1950. “Usher II” tells of Bradbury’s and other writers’ fear of censorship. A literary expert named William Stendahl retreats to Mars and builds his image of the perfect haunted mansion, complete with mechanical creatures, creepy soundtracks and the application of many tons of poison to kill every living thing in the surrounding area. He is assisted by Pikes, a film aficionado and former actor whose collection was confiscated and destroyed by the government and was subsequently banned from performing. When the Moral Climate Monitors come to visit, Stendahl and Pikes arrange to kill each of them in a manner reminiscent of a different horror masterpiece, culminating in the murder of Inspector Garrett in a sequence reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”. When Stendahl’s persecutors are dead, the house sinks into the lake as in Poe’s short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

Bradbury hints at past events on Earth, set in 1975 – 30 years prior to the events in “Usher II.” A government-sponsored ‘Great Burning’ of books is described, followed by the emergence of an underground society of citizens possessing small hoardings of books, the ownership of which had been declared illegal. Those found to possess books had them seized and burned by fire crews. Mars apparently emerged as a refuge from the fascist censorship laws of Earth, until the arrival of a government organization referred to only as “Moral Climates” and their enforcement divisions, the “Dismantlers” and “Burning Crew”. Bradbury would reuse the concept of massive government censorship (to the point of abolishing all literature) in his book Fahrenheit 451.

In 2010 Los Angeles artist Allois, in collaboration with Bradbury, released an illustrated copy of Usher and Usher 2 double feature.

Chapter Twenty – The Old Ones (August 2005/2036) first appeared in The Martian Chronicles. It is a very brief prelude to the following story, describing the immigration of elderly people to Mars.

Chapter Twenty one – The Martian (September 2005/2036) first published in Super Science Stories, November 1949. LaFarge and his wife Anna have forged a new life for themselves, but they still miss their dead son Tom. A night thunderstorm startles the elderly pair, who see a figure standing outside their home in the rain. Anna retires to bed afraid, while LaFarge believes that somehow, Tom is standing before him. He leaves his house unlocked.
That morning, “Tom” is busy helping Anna with chores. LaFarge sees that Anna is somehow unaware of Tom’s death, and after speaking privately with him, LaFarge learns that “Tom” is a Martian with an empathic shapeshifting ability: it appears as their dead son to them.

Later that day, Anna insists on a visit to the town. “Tom” is deathly afraid of being so close to so many people. LaFarge promises to keep him close, but at the town they become separated. While searching for “Tom”, LaFarge hears that the Spaulding family in town has miraculously found their lost daughter Lavinia. Desperate to avoid a second devastating heartbreak to his wife, LaFarge stands outside Spaulding’s home and finds “Tom” now masquerading as Lavinia. He is able to coax “Tom” to come back, and they run desperately back for their boat to leave town. However, everyone “Tom” passes sees a person of their own — a lost husband, a son, a criminal. The Martian, exhausted from his constant shape-changing, spasms and dies.

Chapter Twenty two – The Luggage Store (November 2005/2036) first appeared in The Martian Chronicles. The story of Mars and its inhabitants is continued in a discussion between a priest and a luggage storeowner. Nuclear war is imminent on Earth, and the priest predicts that most of the colonists will return to help.

Chapter Twenty three – The Off Season (November 2005/2036) first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1948. On Mars, former Fourth Expedition member Parkhill has opened a hot-dog stand, when a lone Martian walks in. Parkhill panics and kills him. Suddenly, numerous Martians appear in sand ships. Parkhill takes his wife to his own sand ship and flees. The Martians catch up and give Parkhill a message: he now owns half of Mars. Unfortunately, the fleet of rockets filled with “hungry customers” won’t be coming to patronize his restaurant, as the nuclear war has begun on Earth.

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