Introduced by Chris Hadfield
Illustrated by Mick Brownfield
Astronaut Chris Hadfield introduces these tales of space travel and thwarted utopian dreams.
'Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle'
Published in 1950, Ray Bradbury’s dark short stories of Martian colonisation appeared when the idea of life on the Red Planet was very real. Space travel was still a fantasy, but with the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima fresh in his mind, and new rocket technology offering untold possibilities, Bradbury, like many science-fiction writers, turned his thoughts to the sky. However, instead of a new and distant utopia, he imagined how humanity’s failings would follow us into space, and how our clumsy notions of manifest destiny are doomed to repeat themselves, no matter how far we journey.
Drawn from the horrors of colonisation in the United States, the Chronicles focus on the experiences of the ordinary men and women who leave a troubled Earth for a new life on Mars. What follows is the inevitable deterioration from naive pioneering spirit to destructive avarice, played out among the ruins of a decimated indigenous civilisation. Beginning with the first expeditions, the stories explore each stage of Mars’ doomed conquest. We meet deluded priests, determined to convert the strange aboriginals to a foreign and redundant god; we flee on crystal sandships with an ignorant hot-dog vendor, terrified he will be robbed of his claim; and in ‘– and the Moon Be Still as Bright’ two colonists clash, torn between duty and the realisation that the men who follow them will tear the planet apart.
In his brilliant introduction, the celebrated Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield asks why generations of scientists and dreamers continue to be inspired by the beauty of Bradbury’s ‘delightful impossibility’. He gives fascinating insight into the training here on Earth for future Martian expeditions, and what the hope for a new life on Mars gives us, ‘in spite of ourselves’. Artist Mick Brownfield’s colourful illustrations, inspired by 1950s sci-fi, vividly portray this quest to be Martian, along with the ghostly splendour of Bradbury’s alien landscapes.
‘The bitter irony of The Martian Chronicles is both stark and shocking’
Bradbury’s Mars offered unlimited new opportunity for exploration and discovery, and expansion of human awareness. Yet virtually every step in the Chronicles, as through much of human history, is a misstep. Mutual ignorance and distrust between normally peaceful peoples leads to violence and death. Greed causes unfathom- ably bad behavior; uncomfortably reminiscent of gold-hungry Conquistadors in the New World, five hundred years previous. Anger and frustration at the constraints of an intensely bureaucratic society somehow permit the craziest of personal behavior. And the ultimate threat of the destruction of it all somehow draws everyone back into the maelstrom, as if there is no escape. As if we all have a necessity to accept the consequences of everyone’s actions, and take our punishment, no matter how deadly.
Bradbury’s inclusion of the repeated patterns of human behavior, right down to inadvertent genocide caused by external pestilence and unfamiliar disease, makes The Martian Chronicles an ageless cautionary tale. It made me pause and ask myself – could it be possible that we are forever unable to go beyond who we were? Will every great opportunity of discovery be tainted, tarred, and eventually destroyed by our own clumsy, brutish hand?
If the answer were simply yes, if this book stopped there, it could not have lasted. And possibly therein lies its longevity, and its ability to both challenge and inspire successive generations of readers.
Ray Bradbury was born in Illinois in 1920, and spent most of his life in Los Angeles. He did not go to university and was a full-time writer from the age of twenty-three; his short story ‘Homecoming’ was picked from the slush pile at Mademoiselle magazine by Truman Capote. Bradbury’s first book, a collection of short stories entitled Dark Carnival, was published in 1947. The Martian Chronicles (1950) was followed by The Illustrated Man (1951) and his seminal work of dystopian science fiction, Fahrenheit 451, in 1953. He died in 2012.
Chris Hadfield is one of the world’s most accomplished astronauts. A veteran of three space missions, he has logged nearly 4,000 hours in space. Selected by the Canadian Space Agency to be an astronaut in 1992, Hadfield was Chief CAPCOM for 25 shuttle missions, Director of Operations for NASA in Star City, Russia, and both Chief of Robotics and Chief of International Space Station Operations for the NASA Astronaut Office in Houston, Texas. Hadfield most recently served as Commander of the International Space Station, where he received international recognition for his photographs and videos from space. He is the author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (2013) and You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes (2014). In 2014, Hadfield was appointed to the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour.
Mick Brownfield was born in East London in 1947. He studied Graphic Design at Walthamstow and Hornsey from 1965–9 and over the following forty-five years has worked as an illustrator within publishing, editorial, animation, and advertising. His clients have included Guinness, Heineken, Coca Cola, The Sunday Times, Disney, Faber & Faber, and Penguin. His work can be reproduced across a wide range of media but is created traditionally using paints, pencils, and paper. He lives and works in London.
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Review by irodgers on 4th Jan 2017
"This has long been a favourite collection of stories, and was my introduction to the distinctive Bradbury style, and it is a pleasure to own this well-produced and illustrated version. If I was nitpi..." [read more]
Review by anon on 4th May 2015
"This book is so beautifully written, it is almost poetry. The illustrations are perfectly evocative of the subject matter, and given the year it was written, especially apt. The cover illustration a..." [read more]