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Literature / The Martian Chronicles

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The Martian Chronicles is a series of short stories by Ray Bradbury collected into a single book (published in the UK as The Silver Locusts), 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:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: In "Mars Is Heaven!", the United States vessel XR-53 became the first Earth ship to land on Mars on April 20, 1987.
  • 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. When she proposes marriage, he runs away to another city, where he lives happily alone. And if the phone rings, he doesn't pick it up.
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  • 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.
  • Aroused by Their Voice: Walter Gripp imagines Genevieve Selsor as beautiful based on their phone conversations. When they eventually meet, he's dismayed to see that she's actually fat and ugly.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • In "Usher II," we have the members of Moral Climates, a pro-censorship organization that has seemingly successfully lobbied for virtually all works of fiction to be banned on Earth. An ex-librarian and an ex-actor, both ruined by their actions, proceed to use robots to kill them in grisly ways referencing works they banned, culminating in the leader being personally dispatched by the librarian via live burial in an homage to The Cask of Amontillado. Their fates are horrifying, but one can't help but cheer at the triumph of free speech.
    • Teece of “Way in the Middle of the Air” is an unpleasant racist who tries to force any African-Americans he can to stay on Earth solely because he won’t be able to lynch black people anymore. Even his friends find his actions reprehensible and even defend Teece’s employee, Silly, from his attempts. Nobody feels particularly bad when he crashes his car on his way to kill the African-Americans who are leaving.
  • Audio Adaptation: William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy Read Four Science Fiction Classics: William Shatner reads abridged versions of "The Psychohistorians" and "Mimsy Were the Borogoves", and Leonard Nimoy reads abridged versions of The Martian Chronicles and "The Green Hills of Earth".
    • Big Finish produced one in 2015, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and headlined by Sir Derek Jacobi.
  • 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 on 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.
  • Continuity Nod: The government-approved book burnings mentioned in "Usher II" are a call back to Fahrenheit 451.
  • 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!" The crewmen assume they're in the afterlife when they meet their deceased relatives on Mars, but it's just a trick to lure them into a false sense of security.
  • Downer Ending:
    • "Mars Is Heaven!": The explorers land on Mars and find all their deceased relatives, apparently alive and well, until the captain of the ship realizes something is amiss, and the shapeshifting telepathic Martians kill them all.
    • "Ylla": Ylla's jealous husband murders the human astronaut to prevent Ylla from getting to meet him.
    • "The Earth Men": A crew of astronauts arrive on Mars, only to find that the Martians don't even care that they're from Earth—because they assume that they're insane, and they think their spaceship is just a psychic hallucination. They end up sent to an insane asylum, and they're ultimately shot to death by a Martian doctor trying to put them out of their misery.
  • 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. Later printings revise this to 2030.
  • 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.
  • Karmic Death: The officials and bureaucrats in "Usher II". If only they had read Edgar Allan Poe,note  they would have seen all those death traps coming a mile away.
  • Kill 'Em All: Near the end of the stories, almost every major character meets this fate.
  • Kicked Upstairs: The captain of the Fourth Expedition 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 subsequently shipped off on a mission to the Outer Planets 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".
    • "There Will Come Soft Rains" is named after (and includes a reading of) a poem by Sara Teasdale.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: "Mars Is Heaven!": This story starts out as a sort of Ontological Mystery in the beginning. A crew from Earth land on Mars, which looks like Ohio at the turn of the 20th century. When their long lost dead relatives start appearing, the crewmembers are overcome with the excitement of seeing old faces again. It has a Downer Ending: the residents of the town are shape-shifting telepathic Martians who put up the facade to throw the spacemen off guard. It works: that night, just as the Captain realizes this, his "brother" kills him. The same thing happens all over town. The next day, they have a funeral for the spacemen... and then take on their true forms and gleefully tear the ship apart.
  • 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: "Mars Is Heaven!": An expedition to Mars is surprised to find an Earth village populated by all their deceased relatives, only to realize too late it's a trap designed to lure them outside their rocketship so they can be easily murdered.
  • 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.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted. Cross-species disease is a major plot point in "And the Moon Be Still as Bright".
  • Nostalgia Heaven: "Mars Is Heaven!": Some explorers land on Mars and are stunned to find their childhood hometown, populated by all their deceased relatives, very much alive and well. It's a trap.
  • Nuke 'em: The war on Earth has a lot of poorly thought-out nuke use.
  • 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: The original stories were written over a period of time, and have only the barest continuity.
  • 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".
  • Planet Baron: Several of the collection's stories use this trope in a minor key for several of its stories when Mars becomes almost totally depopulated of human settlers. Easy to be king of the world when you're the only one there:
    • "The Off Season": A hot dog stand owner and his wife, quite possibly the last people on Mars, tidy up in anticipation of the colonists returning. Then nuclear war starts on Earth.
    • "The Silent Towns": A look at a miner left behind who has free run of its various settlements until a chance telephone call leads him to realize he isn't alone. Unfortunately, he may have been better off that way.
    • "The Long Years": Hathaway is forcibly taken back to Earth, leaving his "family" behind to continue their empty routine.
    • "The Million Year Picnic": A family escapes nuclear holocaust on Earth to become the new "martians", and thereby the new owners of Mars. Whether or not the cycle of abuses humanity conducts will continue there is left unstated.
  • Prefers the Illusion: Mr. Hathaway and his too-idyllic family.
  • Race Lift: Jeff Spender becomes black in the miniseries to emphasize his empathy with the Native Martians. His race is never specified in the book, but his statement that his parents hated Mexicans for their dark skin implies he's white.
  • 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.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: When nuclear war erupts on Earth, the Martian colonists can, with their naked eyes, see the planet blaze with fiery light. Yet there's still somehow an intact Earth for them to return to.
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: "Usher II," where a fan of Poe creates an elaborate death-trap based on Poe's best-known gothic horror tales to kill and replace the Moral Guardians trying to destroy literary works. The final line of the story is a direct quote of the final line to "Fall Of the House of Usher."
  • 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.
  • Sole Survivor: In the Dimension X/X Minus One radio adaptations of "Mars Is Heaven!", Dr. Horst was the only member of his family to survive The Holocaust. When he was a child, all of his relatives were gassed in Dachau.
  • Superior Species: Jeff Spender believes Martians to be this to humans after studying their ruins, hypothesizing among other things that they lived in harmony with the environment and had no conflict between science and religion. The stories that actually feature the Martians, however, show them to be just as flawed as humans.
  • Telepathic Spacemen: Ray Bradbury's "Mars Is Heaven!": The telepathic Martians create a Lotus-Eater Machine to trap the crew of a human spaceship until they're all asleep, so the Martians can murder them easily.
  • 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 how 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.
  • 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.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: In "Mars Is Heaven!", the Martians are a race of shapeshifters who assumed the forms of the deceased relatives of the crew of the XR-53 in order to make them think that Mars is Heaven and lull them into a false sense of security.
  • 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 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.
  • Zeerust: Typewriters are still in use. Most of this is due to the time the stories were written.

Alternative Title(s): The Silver Locusts