Review of “The Martian Chronicles”

I rated The Martian Chronicles at three out of five stars, but maybe 3.5 would have been closer to my impression if we could do half stars. I wanted to read The Martian Chronicles due to fond memories of the 1980’s TV Miniseries. It was interesting to see how the miniseries slightly modified and blended the short stories which make up the book. Some were reproduced very close to the original stories and some were not, but are still recognizable. The mini-series also did not cover all the stories in the book so, it was fun to have a few tales that I had not heard placed in between ones that were more familiar.

Bradbury and this book are considered “classics” in sci-fi, albeit a bit dated due to limited scientific knowledge at the time. Readers who want “hard sci-fi” tied to a current understanding of Mars, beware, these tales are based on many speculations (like the “canals”, breathable atmosphere, and the assumption of plant and animal life assumed to have existed at the time.) If you are okay with a little suspension of belief regarding these elements, you might enjoy this more.

The Martian Chronicles is a series of short stories tied together loosely as an overall narrative about the exploration and attempted settlement of Mars by humanity. It also presents a native sentient Martian culture on Mars. The stories all feel a little like Twilight Zone style tales. They’re short, strange, with a twist of irony, and maybe a touch of morality-play in them. While I am a fan of the Twilight Zone’s masterful style, these stories seemed a bit more cartoonish to me in some ways. The writing seemed to vary a lot to me. Some stories felt spur of the moment with shallow character development, while others had an interesting writing style and held my interest. It is possible that some of my impressions were colored by seeing the TV Mini-series too.

I think the story/chapter “There Will Come Soft Rains” as the most poetic and interesting writing. Other tales like “Usher II”, “The Earth Men”, “The Third Expedition”, “The Silent Towns”, and “The Off Season” feel very Twilight Zone but kinda campy in ways. “The Martian”, “Night Meeting”, “The Long Years”, and “The Fire Balloons” were some of my favorite stories in the book.

Overall, I guess it has to be taken as a classic that has not necessarily aged well, at least for me. There is actually one chapter not in this version (and other more recent publications of the book) which was removed because of some of its stereotyping of black culture (“Way in the Middle of the Air”).

I read Herbert’s DUNE right before this book and the difference in style and storytelling between them made Martian Chronicles feel even more campy and simplistic in its writing and story telling. Maybe that colored my perceptions of the book unfairly but… it is what it is.