Literature / The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles is a series of short stories by Ray Bradbury collected into a single book, describing episodes from a future history in which Earth sends several manned expeditions to, and eventually colonizes, the planet Mars. (The stories, written in the 1940s and 1950s, depict the planet as habitable and — initially — inhabited.)

As originally written, the sequence begins with the first manned expedition to Mars in the distant future year of 1999. The stories were revised in 1997 to push it back to 2030.

"There Will Come Soft Rains", though set on Earth, is part of the same future history, and is included in some versions of the book.

A miniseries adaptation was made in 1979, which Bradbury called "just boring," although it was nominated for a Hugo Award. A film adaptation is rumored to be in the works as of 2013.

The book and series provide examples of:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: Subverted in "The Silent Towns". A man wakes up to find that he's been left on Mars by accident after most of the Martian colony has gone back to Earth. He begins dialing phone numbers in a desperate attempt for human contact and manages get in touch with a woman, who he begins to fall in love with (based on their brief phone conversation). When they finally meet, he finds her disgustingly fat, obnoxious, loud, and shallow.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Genevieve Selsor, in the TV miniseries. In the book she's a Fat Slob, airheaded, and materialistic. In the series, she's Bernadette Peters (but still airheaded and materialistic).
  • The Aloner: See Adam and Eve Plot. Initially, he's overjoyed - all the homes are abandoned, and he's able to eat and drink and smoke what he wants, and even carts around town with a wagon filled with money, for the hell of it. When he realizes he's alone, he breaks down and cries, and focuses solely on his attempt to reach a 'seductive voice' that calls telephones regularly. When he finally finds the owner of the voice - one Fat Bastard - he drives the hell away and is very content in being alone.
  • Anyone Can Die: The series has characters dying left and right from the beginning. Then the nuclear war begins, and the previous death counts get put in perspective.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 2/3 for the native Martians and Class 4-6 for Earth.
  • Becoming the Mask: "The Martian" is about one of the natives trying to do this.
  • Bee Bee Gun: The Martians use a gun that shoots live bees, the idea being that the moral responsibility for the actual killing is laid on the head of the living projectile, and the gun-wielder's role is mitigated to that of an accomplice. Proves every bit as effective as earthly firearms, which is lampshaded in the TV series by the turned human who states "...then I offered him my weapon, but he said he already had one..."
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The praying mantis machine in "Night Meeting".
  • Bittersweet Ending: Most of the humankind perish in nuclear war, but few surviving humans settle at Mars to start civilization anew.
  • Boldly Coming: In the second short, "Ylla," the eponymous Martian woman has psychic dreams that an astronaut from Earth will arrive, kiss her, and offer to take her home. This drives her husband jealous, and he shoots the astronaut when he lands.
  • Book Burning: "Usher II" alludes to events on Earth where the government sponsored a "Great Burning" of books and made them illegal, which leads to the formation of an underground society of book owners.
  • Broad Strokes: Not all of the stories were originally intended to be in the same continuity, so this is applied. The native Martians are described very differently in some of the earlier stories than they are later on.
  • Buried Alive: William Stendhal reenacts "The Cask of Amontillado".
  • But What About the Astronauts?: The population of Earth is wiped out by a nuclear war, but the people on Mars survive.
  • Cassandra Truth: Nobody ever believes the captain of the second expedition when he says he is from Earth.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: The Martians' civilization. Most of the elements seem like a fantastic version of Egypt, with books written in hieroglyphs that sing when you touch them, houses built of crystal pillars and traveling using flocks of birds, all in the middle of a great desert.
  • Cultural Posturing: Spender believes the aliens developed their society far better than we did; he's not afraid to explain how to Captain Wilder. Oddly enough, the actual Martians never do this.
  • Dead to Begin With: Played with in "Mars is Heaven!"
  • Earth That Was: The population of Earth is wiped out by a nuclear war, but the people on Mars survive.
  • Excited Show Title!: "Mars is Heaven!"
  • From Bad to Worse: Near the end of the short stories, there are only a few more than a hundred Martians left, the majority of humans abandoned Mars, and Earth is at war. Then Earth goes boom.
  • Ghost Planet: Mars after the native Martians die out.
  • Ghost Town: In "The Silent Towns", Gripp walks around one and samples the abandoned services.
  • Humanity Is Infectious: The Martians (who have psychic abilities of some kind) gradually become infected with human memories to the extent that their entire culture goes insane and is pushed to the point of extinction.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: Yll calls the human in Ylla's dream "a misshapen giant"; both characters are confused by the strange appearance of the Earth man.
  • I Want My Jetpack: See above, about the first manned expedition to Mars in the distant future year of 1999.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifter: In "The Martian", the titular character shifts between forms depending on which character looks at it. The other Martians seemed to have more self-control.
  • Kill 'em All: Near the end of the stories, almost every major character meets this fate.
  • Kicked Upstairs: One character starts to have qualms about colonizing Mars and leaving no traces of the native culture. In a later story in the collection, it's revealed he was stationed on a farther away planet in the solar system and thus literally "kicked upstairs".
  • Literary Allusion Title: "And the Moon Be Still as Bright", a quotation from Lord Byron's "So We'll Go No More A-Roving".
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The Martians are able to use their mental powers to create illusions based off of memory.
  • Mars
  • Mars Needs Women: A very literal inversion. The first human to land on Mars is shot dead by a native Martian whose wife dreamed that she would run away with the man.
  • Master of Illusion: Some of the Martians, particularly in "The Third Expedition".
  • Moral Guardians: "Usher II" alludes to events on Earth where the government sponsored a "Great Burning" of books and made them illegal, which leads to the formation of an underground society of book owners. 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".
  • Nasty Party: In "Usher II", Stendhal and Pikes construct Stendahl's image of the perfect haunted mansion, complete with mechanical creatures, creepy soundtracks, and thousands of tons of poison to kill every living thing in the surrounding area. They then invite the Moral Climate Monitors to visit and kill each of them in ways that allude to different horror masterpieces.
  • Nuke 'em: The war on Earth has a lot of poorly thought-out nuke use.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Cross-species disease is a major plot point in "And the Moon Be Still as Bright".
  • Only Sane Man: Subverted in "The Earth Men." While the Martians seem insane in how they ignore the significance of the astronauts being explorers from a different world, it's revealed they think the astronauts are just insane Martians projecting illusions with telepathy.
  • Patchwork Story
  • Pendulum of Death: In "Usher II", all of the murders are based on Poe stories. One of the victims is killed by the descending pendulum from "The Pit and the Pendulum".
  • Reality Bleed: "Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed"
  • Replacement Goldfish / Ridiculously Human Robots: Mr. Hathaways's family.
  • Sand Is Water: The Martians had sand ships.
  • Send in the Search Team
  • Shapeshifter Swan Song: The title character of "The Martian" appears to whoever sees him as a lost loved one. When he's surrounded by a crowd of people, who all need to see somebody different, the results are not pleasant.
  • Skeletal Musician: Inverted in "The Musicians" where skeletons are used to make music.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Sam Parkhill serves as a violent example of this during the standoff with Jeff Spender. Later in the book, he sets up a hot dog stand, expecting a huge rush of business from an arriving wave of settlers and workers. Gets his comeuppance when he panics, kills a Martian who was about to give him property titles for half the planet, and then watches the nuclear war begin on Earth.
  • Throw-Away Country / Shiny New Australia: Nuclear war on Earth begins with Australia accidentally being atomized. As in the entire landmass. The event is so energetic that it casts shadows on Mars. It's not entirely clear why there was anything left to fight over on Earth, or how anyone (or even a microbe) was still alive to fight after that, this might be a case of Science Fiction Writers Have No Sense Of Scale.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Martians are almost completely wiped out by chicken pox. One character muses how wrong this is: "in the name of all that's holy, it has to be chicken pox, a child's disease, a disease that doesn't even kill children on Earth! It's not right and it's not fair. It's like saying the Greeks died of mumps, or the proud Romans died on their beautiful hills of athlete's foot!"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: One early story, set in the segregated South, is about all the blacks in the area (or the country? it's been a while) pooling their resources to make/buy a rocket to get to Mars. They're never mentioned again through the entire rest of the book.
    • Then later, in The Illustrated Man, it is revealed that they go back to help the survivors of the nuclear war.
  • The Unpronounceable: The alien last names are pretty much impossible to pronounce in "The Earth Men", being three letters (Consonant or vowel) in a row.
  • Zeerust: Typewriters are still in use. Most of this is due to the time the stories were written.