Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Martian Chronicles

Ray Bradbury, author of "Farenheit 451" and many other science fiction pieces, died on June 5, 2012, aged 92. Above, an image by Edward Miller of a Martian sandship as described in "The Martian Chronicles", one of the first novels by Bradbury.

A few days ago, I had a curious mental flash: the image of one of those "sandships" described in "The Martian Chronicles" and the idea that I should have re-read that old story. The day after, I read of the death of the author, Ray Bradbury, on June 5, 2012.

Maybe a small extra-sensorial perception on my part or, more likely, just a coincidence. In any case, it led me to look for that old book that I know I had, somewhere. It took me some work to find it but, eventually, I did. From the piles of books accumulated in the many bookshelves I have at home, there emerged the Italian translation, titled "Cronache Marziane" published in 1954.

I can't say when I read that book for the first time - surely not in 1954 because I was only two years old. I must have read it when I was, maybe, 12 or perhaps I was even younger. Perhaps it was the very first science fiction novel that I read. On re-reading it, I found that I remembered some flashes of the stories it contained. Some are truly unforgettable: sandships chasing each other over the Martian desert, or the robotic house continuing to prepare lunches and dinners even though its residents have been vaporized by an atomic explosion. Bradbury was a great writer, a master in the way he described the landscape, the worlds, the characters. Just read the first story of the Martian Chronicles, the one that describes a Martian family: the details are breathtaking. Pure genius.

"The Martian Chronicles" was published as a complete novel in 1950, but many of the stories it contains are older than that and go back to the 1930s and 1940s. Re-reading it more than half a century after it was written is a curious experience. For one thing, it is so terribly outdated. It is strange to think that just a few decades ago we knew so little about the planets of the solar system that we could really think we could breathe the atmosphere of Mars, that there were really "canals" there, bringing water to cultivated land. Just as we could think that Venus was a planet of hot swamps, complete with dinosaurs and assorted monsters.

And yet, from another viewpoint, "The Martian Chronicles" is also incredibly up to date. The future is, in the end, something that we build every day. The path we follow changes all the time: Mars turned out not to be a place where we can live, and the same is true for Venus, but our drive to find new places has not changed. So, Mars or not, we continue to search, to move, to create new ideas, new places, new views of the world. What makes Bradbury's story so true is its cyclical character. It is a story that has already taken place; in a way it is just a revisitation of the the old Frontier myth with the Martians playing the role of the Indians. It is so modern in how it describes how carelessly humans destroy what they don't understand and how inevitable all that is.

And it is also a story that is taking place right now, although not on Mars. We always keep seeking for something that we don't seem to be able to find and in doing so we destroy everything that we can't understand. So, all stories repeat themselves over and over, all stories are cycles. We keep marching toward the future without remembering that it is a path already taken. It is inevitable.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)