‘The Martian Chronicles’, by Ray Bradbury, Limited Editions Club (1974)

The recent passing of the great American writer Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) has rightly re-ignited discussion on Bradbury’s place in the pantheon of American literature.  Best known for Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury is usually described as a science-fiction/fantasy/mystery writer. I do not use those descriptions as I think Bradbury’s influence stems far beyond those realms. Like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, two icons in world literature that had the greatest influence on him, Bradbury used those genre’s in a manner which transcends typicity; his stories were about people and humanity,with a moral message often reflecting his small town upbringing.

The Martian Chronicles, a short story collection first published in 1950, is about humans colonizing Mars and the conflicts that arise between native Martians and the Earthling colonists. The book is not really a novel; most of the ‘chapters’ were written as somewhat independent short stories and published in 1940’s era science fiction magazines. In transforming these stories into a book, Bradbury added some vignettes to help loosely tie the stories together into a more episodic narrative. The stories focus on the impact man has on the Martians, especially the ethics of mans interactions and objectives with the red planet and its inhabitants.

My favorite story within the book is And the Moon Be Still as Bright. This story provides a good example of how Bradbury uses the narrative and setting to explore questions that have perplexed humans since time immemorial. I think it fair to say that on Earth religion and science are typically assumed to be at odds, often with detrimental impact to society as a whole. In And the Moon Be Still as Bright an archaeologist in the Fourth Expedition named Jeff Spender goes native (so to speak), saying:

Thats the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles. And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn’t mix. Or at least we didn’t think they did. We were fools. We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud. They wouldn’t move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.

We succeeded pretty well. We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated out flinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.”

“And these Martians are a found people?” inquired the captain.

“Yes, they knew how to combine science and religion so the two worked side by side, neither denying the other, each enriching the other.

Spender goes on to say something which most on Earth often seem to have forgotten in our constant struggle to ‘find’ ourselves:

The Martians discovered the secret of life along animals. The animal does not question life. It  lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys and relishes life…Why live? Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good a life as possible.

Spender then comes back to science and religion, including the first sentence below which I find profound — one does not need to agree with Bradbury here, but his skill at weaving in deep, thought inducing commentary into his narrative should be recognized.

They {Martians} blended religion and art and science because, at base, science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle. They never let science crush the aesthetic and the beautiful. It’s all simply a matter of degree.

In this same story, the Captain of the expedition thinks deeply about wrongs committed in the name of right, simply because the majority considers something ‘right’. Those over-enthralled with a misunderstanding of what democracy is should consider the following passage in helping them understand why being a constitutional republic based on democratic principles is a far finer way of approaching things.

I hate this feeling of thinking I’m doing right when I’m not really certain I am. Who are we, anyway? The majority? Is that the answer? The majority is always holy, is it not? Always, always; just never wrong for one little insignificant tiny moment, is it? Never ever wrong in ten million years? He thought: What is this majority and who are in it? And what do they think and how did they get that way and will they ever change and how the devil did I get caught in this rotten majority? I don’t feel comfortable. Is it claustrophobia, fear of crowds, or common sense? Can one man be right, while all the world think they are right?

In The Naming of Names Bradbury hits on another reality of life on earth when his story highlights that the hard work done to settle Mars was done by hard-working, risk-taking men and women; followed by ‘sophisticates’ coming in and ruining everything in their controlling attempt to create a world in the image they want. It is a libertarian message that resonates with me, reminding me of our world in which sophisticates stifle growth and freedom in their insatiable desire to control every aspect of our life, from cradle to grave.

But after everything was pinned down and neat and in its place, when everything was safe and certain, when the towns were well enough fixed and the loneliness was at a minimum, then the sophisticates came in from earth. They came on parties and vacations, on little shopping trips for trinkets and photographs and the “atmosphere”; they came to study and apply sociological laws; they came with stars and badges and rules and regulations, bringing some of the red tape that had crawled across Earth like an alien weed, and letting it grow on Mars wherever it could take root. They began to plan people’s lilies and libraries; they began to instruct and push about the very people who had come to Mars to get away from being instructed and ruled and pushed about.

Another favorite story is Usher II, a take off from Edgar Allan Poe‘s The Fall of the House of Usher, containing many parallels to Bradbury’s other classic, Fahrenheit 451. In a further illustration of Bradbury’s disdain for controlling bureaucratic types, the reader is made aware that, on earth some 30 years prior to the setting in Usher II, government burned books and made them illegal. Mars was initially a place to get away from the censorship laws of Earth. However, eventually a government organization referred to as “Moral Climates” arrives on Mars and along with their enforcement divisions, the “Dismantlers” and “Burning Crew”, begin to clean up Mars from the scourge of free thought. What character William Stendahl has in store for these Moral Climate people I will leave to you to find out.

In the closing story, titled The Million-Year Picnic, Bradbury has one of the characters warn us about letting technology outrun our readiness for it.

Life on earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines.

Such is often a theme for those who worry about technology and the ability of humans to harness it for the good of civilization; the warning remains apropos today, in fact, is almost certainly more relevant than when Bradbury initially wrote it.

In short, The Martian Chronicles is an entertaining and thought-provoking reading experience. It deserves its reputation as one of Bradbury’s best, especially if read properly as an exploration of holistic human character; as a challenge to see ourselves for who we are, hopefully in being able to correct our flaws before those flaws are extended beyond the realm of earth.

{Ed. Note:  My favorite work from Bradbury is Dandelion Wine, first published in 1957. If any Books and Vines readers happen to know of any fine press edition of Dandelion Wine, please let me know!}

About the Edition

The 1970’s, especially the early and mid-part of the decade is often considered one of the weaker periods in the history of the Limited Editions Club (LEC). Limitations were raised to 2,000 copies, ownership was in flux, and many of the people who had contributed to the many, many beautiful LEC books published over the years were no longer around. The result is many books that, while nice, are not always inspired. In the case of this book, it is hard to argue with the involvement of Ernst Reichl as designer, or Joe Mugnaini as illustrator, both excellent choices for this edition, even if the stylistic results of their work done here is not quite my personal preference ideal. Martin Gardner is also a good choice for providing an introduction, and he succeeds in providing excellent information and context. Yet, while I do like the overall production, something just seems slightly askew. I cannot quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it is the paper — which just feels sort of ‘standard’, lacking the more normal tactile ‘niceness’ so many LEC’s bring to the table. Also, the type does not have the normal bite to it (look at a couple of the macro’s below). Still, a nice, handsome edition I am happy to have, and one that can often be found at a reasonably ‘fair’ price considering it is signed by Bradbury and Mugnaini.

  • Designed by Ernst Reichl
  • Printed by The Connecticut Printers in Bloomfield
  • Lithographs were drawn on the plates by Joe Mugnaini
  • Prints pulled by Burr Miller, New York
  • Introduction by Martin Gardner
  • Text type is fourteen point Electra with four points of leading between the lines
  • Display headings are in eleven and fourteen point Helvetica
  • Chapter titles are in 24 point Columbia
  • Soft white ‘antique’ finish paper made at Mohawk Mills in Cohoes, New York
  • Cover is tightly woven black buckram, patterned with stars applied by silk-screen at the Rand Studio in New York; this design is also used on the slipcase and the end pages
  • Bound by Bernard and Mortimer Sendor
  • Signed by Bradbury and Mugnaini
  • Limited to 2000 copies, mine is #66

Pictures

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Book in Slipcase
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Front Cover
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, End Papers
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Title Page
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Title Page
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Copyright Page
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Introduction
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Introduction Text
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, List of Illustrations
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Sample Chapter Heading #1 with Text
The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Macro of Text
The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Sample Chapter Heading #2 with Text
The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
‘The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Sample Chapter Heading #3 with Text
The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Sample Illustration #4 with Text
The Martian Chronicles’, Limited Editions Club, Colophon

4 thoughts on “‘The Martian Chronicles’, by Ray Bradbury, Limited Editions Club (1974)

  1. Chris, there is a PS Publishing (UK) edition of Dandelion Wine. Its the 25th anniversary edition of Dandelion Wine – a gorgeous book from a fine press.

  2. Chris, while I agree that this book seems to lack the sumptuous quality of the LEC editions of the pre-Connecticut period, it is still one of my favorites (I hasten to add that I have the Heritage Press edition, never having found a mint copy of the LEC in the past and not being able to afford one now). But I love the design, the writing (of course), and the marvelous illustrations. One day I hope to pick up an LEC, but now I’m sure the prices will skyrocket.

Leave a Reply