The SFFaudio Podcast #409 – AUDIOBOOK/READALONG: The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan

February 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
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Podcast

The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan
The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #409 – The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan, read by Mr Jim Moon. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (1 hour 5 minutes) followed by a discussion of it (by Jesse, Mr Jim Moon, and Paul)

Talked about on today’s show:
1910, obsession, kinda gross, fundamentally based on racism, Jewishness, troublesome, H.P. Lovecraft, a racist filter, horror as fear of the other, the same intellectual climate, racial theory, a sensitivity alarm bell, scare not offend, on the cusp, an off note, Sax Rohmer, yellow peril, Fu Manchu is the hero, the Escape audio drama adaptation, Harlan Ellison, Red Hook territory, uncomfortably of its time, its about race, his friend’s changing disposition, the Saxon Mother vs. the “strong wine of the east”, that logic is still in force, 1/64th Cherokee, if this was set in the highlands…, natural peace, a benevolent supernatural force, white hat vs. black hat, the theme of colonialism vs. race and heredity, imperialism, two-fisted adventure vs. poetry and philosophy and pathos, the landscape, the skyline, the love that Lawson has is reflected by Buchan himself

At midday it cleared, and the afternoon was a pageant of pure colour. The wind sank to a low breeze; the sun lit the infinite green spaces, and kindled the wet forest to a jewelled coronal. Lawson gaspingly admired it all, as he cantered bareheaded up a bracken-clad slope. ‘God’s country,’ he said twenty times. ‘I’ve found it.’ Take a piece of Sussex downland; put a stream in every hollow and a patch of wood; and at the edge, where the cliffs at home would fall to the sea, put a cloak of forest muffling the scarp and dropping thousands of feet to the blue plains. Take the diamond air of the Gornergrat, and the riot of colour which you get by a West Highland lochside in late September. Put flowers everywhere, the things we grow in hothouses, geraniums like sun-shades and arums like trumpets. That will give you a notion of the countryside we were in. I began to see that after all it was out of the common.

beautiful writing, the sensual description of Lawson,

Being a fair man, he was gloriously tanned, and there was a clear line at his shirt-collar to mark the limits of his sunburn. I had first known him years ago, when he was a broker’s clerk working on half-commission. Then he had gone to South Africa, and soon I heard he was a partner in a mining house which was doing wonders with some gold areas in the North. The next step was his return to London as the new millionaire — young, good-looking, wholesome in mind and body, and much sought after by the mothers of marriageable girls. We played polo together, and hunted a little in the season, but there were signs that he did not propose to become a conventional English gentleman. He refused to buy a place in the country, though half the Homes of England were at his disposal. He was a very busy man, he declared, and had not time to be a squire.

a bromance at the least, homoeroticism, nudity or flannels, naked on the veldt, the gorgeousness of the writing, T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, a miniseries on Cecil Rhodes, the empire builder, Rhodesia, like Rhodes Lawson made his money in mining, Buchan knew Rhodes, a giant country estate, Buchan is the name of the unnamed narrator in the audio drama adaptation, biographies, First World War Hidden History blog,, at the center of spying and propaganda, Lord Tweedsmuir, use in a role playing game, Kim Philby, the old boy network, the revolving door policy, no longer conspiracy, no longer tin-foil hat territory, rewarded with the Governorship of Canada, nobility by appointment, “gone to the wall”, with the riff-raff and the hoi-poloi, “gone to seed”, a pun, the fertile and lush garden, the flower of his youth, a railroad from South Africa to Egypt, nursemaided by Rhodes, illness,

Then we went to work to cut down the trees. The slim stems were an easy task to a good woodman, and one after another they toppled to the ground. And meantime, as I watched, I became conscious of a strange emotion.

It was as if some one were pleading with me. A gentle voice, not threatening, but pleading — something too fine for the sensual ear, but touching inner chords of the spirit. So tenuous it was and distant that I could think of no personality behind it. Rather it was the viewless, bodiless grace of this delectable vale, some old exquisite divinity of the groves. There was the heart of all sorrow in it, and the soul of all loveliness. It seemed a woman’s voice, some lost lady who had brought nothing but goodness unrepaid to the world. And what the voice told me was, that I was destroying her last shelter.

That was the pathos of it — the voice was homeless. As the axes flashed in the sunlight and the wood grew thin, that gentle spirit was pleading with me for mercy and a brief respite. It seemed to be telling of a world for centuries grown coarse and pitiless, of long sad wanderings, of hardly-won shelter, and a peace which was the little all she sought from men. There was nothing terrible in it. No thought of wrongdoing. The spell, which to Semitic blood held the mystery of evil, was to me, of a different race, only delicate and rare and beautiful.

poor spirit, parallel to an extinction, running away from the destruction of man, reading the story from Lawson’s point of view, what is he doing there?, an alabaster moon, blood sacrifice, depleting life force, a lonely deity, The Call Of Cthulhu role playing game, a temple ruin, an abandoned mine, a tiki-fetish, some ancient horrible power, maybe we’ve done wrong here,

And then my heartache returned, and I knew that I had driven something lovely and adorable from its last refuge on earth.

the last doorway, the model for this tower, the Great Zimbabwe, where could I read up on that?, a country house with a mock temple: “the folly“, druid orders, cheese rolling, a week later, keeping a secret, dropsy or yellow fever, the revenge of the land, disease, looking down on the tropics, three years, scarfe, natural beauty, that library, the moon of alabaster, the bird statuettes, turtle doves, green doves, auk-like bird carvings, everything is going extinct, the sin at the story’s end, the two-fisted action, shotguns make short work, the birds on the pyre, salting the earth, the Punic wars, improve on Josiah, dynamiting a priceless ancient temple, a “land without history”, purpose of visit: colonialism, sad but true, ancient ruins of Africa, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, the character names all end in “son”: Lawson, Isaacson, Jobson (the factor), the Hudson’s Bay Company, the East India Company, wagons, more money than the Queen, Ming pots, a night watchman, the natives won’t go to the temple, local folk, indemnification, Adamson, half-English, Biblical naming, The Skids, Richard Jobson, Travers, Lowson, H.P. Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror In Literature, building or rebuilding an ancestral home, The Moon Bog, The Rats In The Walls, they have the exact same structure, illness, lifted up into the sky, Ashtaroth the Moon goddess, Captain Norris, Magna Mater, Exham Priory, “what on Earth is going on here man?”, Out Of The Earth by Christine Campbell Thomson (aka Flavia Richardson), standing stones, mummy fiction, atavism, reverting to ancestral type, seeing things backwards, the industries that allow you to work, an inversion, an environmental horror story, silver bark, a beautiful image, Ishtar -> Ashtaroth, male and female spelling, an interest in weird fiction, one of the big names, scant detail, The Golden Bough, To The Devil A Daughter (1976), Astarte, a punny title, if this is a true story…, the covenant, the “Call of Ashtaroth”, the blood ritual, body horror, a psychic impasse, a taste, is there more than one force at work?, Of Withered Apples by Philip K. Dick, an apple tree, a bad farm, eating a withered apple is a bad move, the call of nature, it wants you, its using you, the last portal through, not of this Earth, a moonbeam, She by H. Rider Haggard, elegiac and wistful, a pleasure to read, layers and layers, old school weird fiction, layers of questioning and ambiguity, homages and reinterpretations, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, no clear lines, ambiguity comes to the fore, vs. early 20th century polemic, it would be an amazing comic book, visually stunning, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the albatross of The Thirty-Nine Steps, literary highways and byways, The Moon Endureth, Christopher Hitchens essays,

“In a remarkable short story, ‘The Grove of Ashtaroth,’ the hero finds himself obliged to destroy the gorgeous little temple of a sensual cult, because he believes that by doing so he will salvage the health and sanity of a friend. But he simultaneously believes himself to be committing an unpardonable act of desecration, and the eerie voice that beseeches him to stay his hand is unmistakably feminine.”

-Christopher Hitchens (The Atlantic Monthly, March 2004)

The Grove Of Ashtaroth by John Buchan illustrated by Jesse

Astarte

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #330 – READALONG: Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick

August 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #330 – Jesse, Paul, and Marissa talk about Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick.

Talked about on today’s show:
Time Pawn by Philip K. Dick, 1960, The Little Black Bag by C.M. Kornbluth, Science Fiction Hall Of Fame: Volume 1, The Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth, Idiocracy, if smart people don’t have babies…, a kind of Heinleinian authority, a little grey case, his bag is missing, grey vs. black, a doctor from the past visiting a future society, medicine as a crime, interfering with euthanasia, another weird interesting post nuclear war world, primitive or advanced?, we don’t talk about death, reflecting our world back at us, youth culture, worshiping youth, movie heroes used to be old men, Logan’s Run, Nolan’s world, what is the appeal of that world?, a culture will run things for you if you don’t think a lot, the Ancient Egyptian culture of death, you will live your life in your death, the soulcube, immortality through the species itself, The City And The Stars by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, nobody wants to see that, kids are stupid, the wisdom of the grandmothers, the Vietnam War, genetic stupidity, Language For Time Travelers by L. Sprague de Camp, Stargate, Astounding, an editorial note for Time Pawn, the right to live, ruthless euthanasia, time travel, Dr. Jim Parsons, the character is a time pawn, the second arrow, an inevitability, to ensure their own existence, deterministic, the standard classic scene, being careened, the auditorium at the first Beatles concert is only filled with time travelers, Dick’s take on time travel, familiar stars. not familiar? why aren’t they familiar, figuring out the future of the character as he’s writing it, “huh, that’s weird”, completely unpredictable vs. completely predictable, van Vogtian, Paul employs a railroad metaphor, Sir Francis Drake, line by line rewrites, from New York to San Fransisco, matter to mine, Time Pawn vs. Dr. Futurity, glittering vs. illuminated, darting like silver fish, no aircars?, nobody is going to be reading Time Pawn anytime soon, “the chamber was a blaze of light…dead gods waiting to return”, a rushed novel?, what’d you do with all that?, standard Dick tropes: a wife shuffled to the side, missing the wife less in Dr. Futurity, the description of the women is much lengthier, always heaving breasts, there’s no questioning of reality, no surveillance, less questioning, an uncharacteristically straightforward story, it feels like all the other Ace Doubles, in the mode of reading SF, all the tropes are assumed, Margaret Atwood, Michael Crichton, going through the evolution to understand the SF tropes: Wells -> Gernsback -> the 60s, three a week, that’s all we need to know, airbags everywhere, flame retardant spray, toxic chemicals vs. being on fire, we live in a screwed up culture, mercury poisoning, asbestos, guide beams, the google car, GPS, if there was a solar flare…, Aftermath, a Charles Sheffield novel, old infrastructure could save us, Cuba, Alpha Centauri goes supernova, the Three Hoarsemen podcast, steam-punk without the steam is just punk, Pastwatch: The Redemption Of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, a monster, the Columbian exchange, Dick has just read about Sir Francis Drake, Drake’s voyage, he’s famous for making Queen Elizabeth I a big pile of money, Expo 86, the Golden Hind, Drake’s landing point, Oregon, Vancouver Island, Nova Albion, Albion, British Columbia, albino, a weird figure to fixate on, Cortez, Pissaro, The Mask Of The Sun by Fred Saberhagen, caught in the machinations of time traveling empires, more bushwhacking, Daniel Abraham, the way they talk in this future society, it keeps not working, his presence eventually changes their society, starting that whole tribe, the scene with the arrow, a predestination paradox, those stone markers, “I’ll get around to it”, that whole planet is covered in markers, the way Dick ended it, leaving it loose, why Time Pawn is so much of a better title, he feels he is the chess master after a certain point, the extended spaceship to Mars scene, the robot computer with a rat brain, such a creepy scene, “I wonder what’s going to happen”, if the character doesn’t want to get on track, what’s that about?, what are those guns for?, Shupos?, always people confronting him, make remarks about the women, this is NOT a book written by committee, don’t read this as your first Dick, more fodder for your feed.

Time Pawn by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Virgil Finlay

Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Ed Valigursky

Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Harry Borgman

Docteur Futur by Philip K. Dick

Dr Futurity by Philip K. Dick (Methuen)

Dr Futurity by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Chris Moore

Dr. Futurity by Philip K. Dick (Berkley)

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #275 – READALONG: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Podcasts 

Podcast

Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #275 – Jesse and Mr Jim Moon discuss Ivanhoe: A Romance by Sir Walter Scott

Talked about on today’s show:
1820, the Tantor Media audiobook as read by Simon Prebble, 3 comic book adaptations!, the July 2014 BBC Radio 4 adaptation (1hr), General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, immensely important, Wamba and Gurth, looking at adaptations, refinement, Robin Hood (1973), the splitting of the arrow, a willow wand, daring-do fiction, archery, folktale, Will Scarlet splits the arrow in the Queen Katherine Ballad, the historical inaccuracies, Rob Roy, a plump text, King Richard and Friar Tuck, The Merchant Of Venice by William Shakespeare, a very Shakespearean novel, pithy and punchy, dialogue and banter, The Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, fully motivated characters, Athelstane, colour cloaks, where does Isaac stat at Ashby?, Chapter 2 Gurth is “this second Eumaeus”, Ivanhoe is a retelling of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, the usurpation, the governance of Scotland, the Saxons as the Scots under the English yoke, Loxley, Prince John, King John, Magna Carta, robber barons, Brian de Bois-Guilbert (wants Rebecca), Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, “Front of Beef” (wants Isaac’s money), Maurice de Bracy (wants Rowena), war and God, the 1997 BBC TV adaptation of Ivanhoe, an Arthurian style obsession, the reconciliation, Athelstane is almost a Hobbit, Athelstane death is a comedic version of a Guy de Maupassant or Edgar Allan Poe premature burial story, The Fall Of The House Of Usher done as farce, Monty Python And the Holy Grail, surprisingly few deaths, “boys own adventure”, The A-Team, Ulrica’s death, the the Waverley Novels, almost a Fantasy, magic, The Prisoner Of Zenda, venison, the Douglas Fairbanks Robin Hood, the Black Knight – who could it be?, how easy would the disguises be seen through in 1820, bigger than Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, stage adaptations, Waverley places around the world, Abbotsford, British Columbia is named (in part) after Sir Walter Scott’s home, Ivanhoe’s popularity in the southern United States, invasion, slavery and chivalry, underselling the power of fiction (as compared with non-fiction), On The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin, The Communist Manifesto, Tolkien, understanding fiction, the revelation of truth through fiction, novels were once quite novel, the need for novels, models of action, 1984 changes, helps and improves you, “what is honorable action?”, the power of oaths, rapacious acquisition vs. honorable service, the destruction of the Templars, banishment was a harsh punishment, an obsession with love, Rebecca is the female Ivanhoe, the role of the Jews in the book vs. the adaptations, banking, this is not an anti-Semitic book (shockingly), the coin counting scene, the roasting scene, Friar Tuck is super-anti-Semitic, Churchill’s background, why is it that English were not as anti-Semitic as most of Europe?, a zeitgeisty historical novel, looking at the present through a historical lens, puffy, the level of intellect is very high – the etymology of pig, Lincoln Green, the final battle, a powerfully intellectual book for a piece of fiction, mid-19th century fiction isn’t as punchy, wit and intelligence in peasant characters, J.K. Rowling must have read Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott’s was “the Wizard Of The North”, Cedric <-the name comes from this book, "freelance" <-lances for hire, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Robin Hood (Ridley Scott), Robin Hood’s nom de guerre, ITV’s Robin Of Sherwood <- both Robin Hood mythologies are in it!, the "Dread Pirate Roberts", a good knight but a bad king, pagan gods, Herne the Hunter, Ivanhoe popularized the Middle Ages, Arthurian scholarship, folk customs, the ancient Egypt craze, A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, a big powerful book, A Song Of Ice And Fire is kind of the anti-Ivanhoe, the Dunk And Egg stories, surprisingly modern, the symmetry of Ivanhoe, a tonic for gallstones, HBO should commission Ivanhoe, the 1952 version, the 1982 version, Ciarán Hinds, Mark Hamill, Kevin Costner vs. Alan Rickman, a noir ending averted.

Rebecca and Ivanhoe - illustration by C.E. Brock (1905)

Ivanhoe illustrated by Clarence Leonard Cole (1914)

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Ivanhoe illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #247 – READALONG: On The Beach by Nevil Shute

January 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #247 – READALONG: On The Beach by Nevil Shute; read by Simon Prebble. Jesse fends off illness to lead us in an intriguing discussion about Nevil Shute’s apocalyptic novel. This podcast features Jesse, Jenny, Seth, and Paul.

Talked about on today’s show:
Reversed seasons in Southern Hemisphere; novel originally serialized in London weekly periodical The Sunday Graphic; “on the beach” as naval phrase meaning “retired from service”; the novel almost universally acclaimed by critics and readers alike; what is the ideal time frame for an end-of-the-world scenario?; On The Beach as bleak existential novel; the author’s avoidance of political or religious polemic; 1959 movie starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Anthony Perkins; Australia as a secular nation; Earth Abides by George R. Stewart; Endgame by Samuel Becket; the novel as a metaphor for terminal cancer patients; The Star by Arthur C. Clarke; abstract sterile end-of-world mechanics, a “cosy catastrophe“; 2008 BBC radio adaptation; 2000 TV movie starring Bryan Brown, modernized and featuring a much more optimistic tone; Roland Emmerich’s disaster flick 2012; could the novel’s characters done more to ensure the continued survival of humanity?; fallout shelters, “duck and cover!”; Chernobyl; rampant alcoholism; euthanasia; attitudes toward media–were newspapers responsible for the war?; regression of technology in the novel; The Waveries by Fredric Brown; we wish the Cosy Catastrophe genre would supplant Paranormal Romance; reflection of a pre-WWI era arms race; 1959 movie version tackles Cold War paranoia; U.S. government’s criticism of the novel; Five Years by David Bowie; faced with the end of the world, our panel would evidently read Marcel Proust; needless revisions in film adaptations; much action takes place “off the page” in the novel; lookism; The Scarlet Plague by Jack London; Simon Prebble’s excellent audio narration; George Orwell’s 1984Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and logotherapy; Jay Lake and his bout with cancer; Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, adapted by Alfred Hitchcock, and how we’re haunted by the people who are no longer with us; the novel’s three-dimensional characters; Nevil Shute employs typical British understatement; Lord of the Rings‘s Denethor and the idea of hopelessness; Egyptian tomb goods and attitudes towards death; Jesse plans his funeral rites.

On The Beach - illustration by John Rowland

On The Beach - Ralph Lane adaptation - RADIATION

Scorpion at Bremerton - illustration by Ralph Lane

ON THE BEACH - illustration by Ralph Lane - glass bricks

Posted by Seth Wilson

Protecting Project Pulp: The Opener Of The Way by Robert Bloch

September 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

The Opener Of The Way by Robert Bloch - Illustration by Virgil Finlay

Here’s a creepy tale by a then young disciple and contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft. Taking Egyptian mythology as his starting point Robert Bloch delivers a pretty good tale in the style of the master.

Protecting Project PulpProtecting Project Pulp No. 59 – The Opener Of The Way
By Robert Bloch; Read by Simon Hildebrandt.
1 |MP3| – Approx. 42 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Protecting Project Pulp
Podcast: September 9, 2013
A tremendous tale about the dread doom that overtook an archeologist in that forgotten tomb beneath the desert sands of Egypt. First published in Weird Tales, October 1936.

The titular appellation “The Opener Of The Way” has also recently turned attached to a monster named “Allabar” in the Dungeons & Dragons: Monster Manual 3 (which recommends you use it as a “climactic villain”). The TV Tropes entry “D&D Nightmare Fuel” describes this “monster” thusly:

And then there is Allabar, Opener of the Way, the first 4th Edition living star … instead of a face, imagine dozens upon dozens of unblinking eyes, as well as hundreds of rope-like “growths” around its “body.” Think the moon, when it’s nice and big and clear, so you can see all of the faultlines, valleys and craters. Now imagine every faultline and valley is a huge, thrashing tentacle, and every crater, from the biggest to the smallest, is a never-blinking eye. Imagine that floating in the sky above you at night. Staring at you. Hating you.

Allabar, The Opener Of The Way

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

October 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews, SFFaudio essential 

SFFaudio Review

Blackstone Audio - The Martian Chronicles by Ray BradburySFFaudio EssentialThe Martian Chronicles
By Ray Bradbury; Read by Stephen Hoye
8 CDs – 9.3 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781433293498
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mars / Mythology / Colonization / Aliens /

All right, then, what is Chronicles? Is it King Tut out of the tomb when I was three? Norse Eddas when I was six? And Roman/Greek gods that romanced me when I was ten? Pure myth. If it had been practical, technologically efficient science fiction, it would have long since fallen to rust by the road.

-Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

I’ve never been a big reader of science fiction, largely because, rightly or wrongly, my perception is that SF worships at the altar of technology, and is fixated upon cold, clinical subject matter for which I have little interest. But if the SF genre contained more books like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, I might view it a lot differently.

The Martian Chronicles tells the story of mankind’s colonization of the red planet. Driven by curiosity and the impending destruction of a worldwide atomic war, men send rocket expeditions to Mars in hopes of settling the planet and finding a place to carry on their civilization. It’s not a traditional novel, but a collection of short stories originally published in Planet Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and a handful of other defunct SF magazines, which Bradbury ties together with a series of vignettes.

The Martian Chronicles was first published in 1950 and Bradbury set the first story, “Rocket Summer,” in a fictional (and then-distant) 1999; this latter printing advances the timeline to 2030. The Martian Chronicles certainly has some SF surface trappings, and the tale “There Will Come Soft Rains” (a haunting story about the aftermath of an atomic war) probably fits that category. But it’s certainly not hard SF. Bradbury doesn’t dwell on the Martian technology nor describe how it works. What little there is described in Bradbury’s inimitable short strokes of brilliant, poetic color: Houses with tables of silver lava for cooking bits of meat, pillars of rain that can be summoned for washing, metal books that sing their stories, like a fine instrument under the stroke of a hand.

In the introduction to the 2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc., production of the book, Bradbury says that the larger themes and deeper meanings of his work were buried in his subconscious as he wrote. It wasn’t until he saw an onstage production of The Martian Chronicles, juxtaposed with a viewing of a traveling Tutankhamun exhibit at the Las Angeles Art Museum, that he made the leap—he had written a myth, not a science fiction story:

“Moving back and forth from Tut to theatre, theatre to Tut, my jaw dropped. ‘My God,’ I said, gazing at Tutankhamun’s golden mask. ‘That’s Mars. My God,’ I said, watching my Martians on stage, ‘That’s Egypt, with Tutankhamun’s ghosts.’ So before my eyes and mixed in my mind, old myths were renewed, new myths were bandaged in papyrus and lidded with bright masks. Without knowing, I had been Tut’s child all the while, writing the red world’s hieroglyphics, thinking I thrived futures even in dust-rinsed pasts… Science and machines can kill each other off or be replaced. Myth, seen in mirrors, incapable of being touched, stays on. If it is not immortal, it almost seems such.”

Rather than explaining the hows and whys of rocket travel, or the describe the atmospheric conditions of the red planet, Bradbury uses The Martian Chronicles to explore the age-old problems of colonization/colonialism, our fears of the unknown, our longing for simpler times, and the limitations of science and technology. It’s intensely elegiac, an ode to the quiet towns and neighborhoods of the 1920s and 30s, before the sprawl of cities and suburbs and the opening of the Pandora’s Box of atomic power.

The heart of the book is the short story, “And the Moon be Still as Bright,” which concerns a fourth rocket expedition to the red planet. The first three missions have failed. Mars is empty, its cities ghostly and vacant. The Martians have been hit hard by chicken pox, infected by the crew of one of the previous expeditions. When several crewmembers of the latest expedition get drunk and vandalize a beautiful Martian city of glass spires, one of the crewmen, Jeff Spender, turns on them in a murderous rampage.

Later, atop a hill, Captain Wilder approaches Spender in an effort to get him to surrender. Spender, who initially seems crazy, is revealed as the man with the clearest vision. He knows what modern man is like, a professional cynic who wants to tear down and rebuild in his own image, citing Cortez’s mission to Mexico (which wiped out nearly all traces of the Aztec Empire). Spender has read the Martians’ books and seen the relics of their culture, and discovers that it is a perfect balance of science and religion, nature and man (Martian) in harmony, with neither side dominant. Says Spender:

“[The Martians] quit trying too hard to destroy everything, to humble everything. They 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. An Earth Man thinks: ‘In that picture, color does not exist, really. A scientist can prove that color is only the way the cells are placed in a certain material to reflect light. Therefore, color is not really an actual part of things I happen to see.’ A Martian, far cleverer, would say: ‘This is a fine picture. It came from the hand and the mind of a man inspired. Its idea and its color are from life. This thing is good.’”

It’s interesting to note that the Martians are not perfect, and in striving for balance they may have lost something. In “Ylla,” the second story/chapter of the book, a Martian woman upsets her husband to the point of murder. As the Martians are telepathic, Ylla is able to “speak” to the astronauts as they draw near in their silver rocket. She learns their burning desires and their strange songs. Despite the harmonious, tranquil, idyllic environment all around her, the brown-skinned, golden-eyed Ylla wants to be swept away to earth, crushed in the embrace of the white-skinned, dark-haired, blue-eyed Nathaniel York. For all its piggishness and destructiveness, the race of men is passionate, burning with the desire to live and explore.

As with all of Bradbury’s tales, The Martian Chronicles contains its share of humor, terror, heartbreak, and hope, and is written in Bradbury’s beautiful, one-of-a-kind style. It holds a deserved place as science fiction classic, even as it transcends the genre and defies our attempts to categorize it.

Posted by Brian Murphy

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