Sunday, 21 October 2012

Ray Bradbury- The Silver Locusts- The Martian Chronicles

The Silver Locusts- The Martian Chronicles
Corgi
Ray Bradbury
1950

'“Do you ever wonder if--well, if there are people living on the third planet?'
'The third planet is incapable of supporting life,' stated the husband patiently. 'Our scientists have said there's far too much oxygen in their atmosphere.”' 

Returning to Ray Bradbury and his seemingly-endless droll science fiction antics, after reading and very much enjoying Bradbury's take on 1984 in Fahrenheit 451 I returned to a short story collection not unlike the first Bradbury book I read, The Illustrated Man. The stories in The Silver Locusts (a book more commonly known as The Martian Chronicles in its native United States, but that's not where I be) were written between 1946 and 1950- or later, depending on the edition of the book you own, mine is the UK original- for various science fiction publications. In this bastardized novel form Bradbury attempted to include thematically similar stories and added around a handful of new ones in an attempt to bring the concept together cohesively. For me, it just didn't work.

The original edition of this collection contains twenty-eight stories, arranged in chronological order to tell the greater story of a suffering and desperate human race attempting to colonise Mars. The stories are split in to three parts; the first selection tell of man's desperate attempts to reach the red planet and escape a nearly totally devastated Earth in the face of nuclear destruction. Those that do make it arrive to encounter the martian race in various ways, but almost all with tragic outcomes. Bradbury writes several of these stories with a heavy emphasis on the Martian's perspective, and as a result quickly establishes the key narrative element of using his alien characters to offer a twisted glimpse into humanity. Though I've only read three of his books, it seems that he has certain concepts that remain paramount throughout his writing; for me, those were boiled down to the essence of a lack of faith in humanity to be able to deal peacefully with others.

As in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, the downfall of the Martian race is through a lack of immunity to common human diseases, and soon the human colonists seem to have the planet to themselves. Transposing important human issues and history into new visions with new perspectives is an integral part of the best science fiction, I think, and it perhaps wasn't a distant concept to turn the prairies of the newly colonized American west into vast empty Martian deserts. Anything seems possible, in an understated mesh of southern gothic and alien horror genres.

The third act of the collection requires an important plot point to explain, so I'll refrain from that because nobody likes big spoilers, but truth be told it's a continuation of the colonisation theme taken to its natural conclusion, in Oroborous fashion. By this point, though, my interest had bottomed out and it was only stubbornness that forced me to complete the book. Thinking about what left me so cold about The Silver Locusts compared to how much I enjoyed Fahrenheit 451 (a lot) and The Illustrated Man (a bit), it seems to me that the answer lies in the telling of the stories; thinking back over the overarching plot and themes it's a very clever book, and a very well organised collection of cohesive parts, but I couldn't enjoy them. Partly I think because the variety of setting was understandably slim, but mostly because Bradbury failed to make me care about almost any of the characters in the short time they were each granted on the page. Montag, of Fahrenheit 451 is allowed much more space to breathe and grow in what is still a short novel, and existed as a point of identification. The characters of this book mean nothing to me. Perhaps as a Brit rather than an American I just can't bring myself to care enough about thoughts of a new world and the dangers of a fresh civilization.