The Martian Chronicles is a 1950 science fiction short story collection by Ray Bradbury that chronicles the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from a troubled and eventually atomically devastated Earth, and the conflict between aboriginal Martians and the new colonists. The book lies somewhere between a short story collection and an episodic novel, containing stories Bradbury originally published in the late 1940s in science fiction magazines. For publication, the stories were loosely woven together with a series of short, interstitial vignettes.
Bradbury has credited Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath as influences on the structure of the book. He has called it a “half-cousin to a novel” and “a book of stories pretending to be a novel”. As such, it is similar in structure to Bradbury’s short story collection, The Illustrated Man, which also uses a thin frame story to link various unrelated short stories.
The first third (set in the period from January 1999—April 2000) details the attempts of the Earthmen to reach Mars, and the various ways in which the Martians keep them from returning. In the crucial story, “—And the Moon be Still as Bright”, it is revealed by the fourth exploratory expedition that the Martians have all but perished in a plague caused by germs brought by one of the previous expeditions. This unexpected development sets the stage for the second act (December 2001—November 2005), in which humans from Earth colonize the deserted planet, occasionally having contact with the few surviving Martians, but for the most part preoccupied with making Mars a second Earth. However, as war on Earth threatens, most of the settlers pack up and return home. A global nuclear war ensues, cutting off contact between Mars and Earth. The third act (December 2005—October 2026) deals with the aftermath of the war, and concludes with the prospect of the few surviving humans becoming the new Martians, a prospect already foreshadowed in “—And the Moon be Still as Bright”, and which allows the book to return to its beginning.
A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years (thus running from 2030 to 2057), includes “The Fire Balloons”, and replaces “Way in the Middle of the Air” (a story less topical in 1997 than in 1950) with the 1952 short story “The Wilderness”, dated May 2034 (equivalent to May 2003 in the earlier chronology).
Next week I’ll begin doing a summary for all 31 of the short stories in the book summarizing one each Monday.