Mars Is Heaven!

In Ray Bradbury’s classic 1948 short story, Mars is not Heaven at all, but a death trap for unsuspecting astronauts.  Nevertheless, that was the title that came to mind when I heard of Bradbury’s death a few days ago.  He was 91 years old, and lived a long and remarkably prolific life, writing novels, television and radio scripts, and hundreds of short stories, beginning in the 1930s and continuing until recent years.  His last novel was published in 2006, his last collection in 2009.

When I checked my bookshelf, I found The Martian Chronicles (a collection of short stories posing as a novel, including “Mars Is Heaven!” retitled as “The Third Expedition”), The Illustrated Man (stories tied together by the moving tattoos of the title character), and The Stories of Ray Bradbury, a remnant of my father’s library, published in 1980 and almost 900 pages long.

I did not find Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury’s only true science fiction novel and perhaps his most famous title.  I know I read it long ago.  Saw the movie, too.  Over the years I read many of his short stories and novels, which spanned the territory from his childhood home in Illinois to the future of Mars.  He described himself as a writer of fantasy, not the swords and dragons sort, but the fantasy of childhood fears and adult dreams.  He wrote coming-of-age stories and mystery novels.  He wrote for seventy years, and we are all the richer for that.

If I had to pick a favorite from Bradbury’s work, it would be The Martian Chronicles, originally published in 1950 as a “fix-up” novel consisting of tales written in the late 1940s, tied together and dated from 1999 through 2026.  Those dates (advanced by 31 years in a 1997 edition) seem rather a quaint touch today, but there’s nothing dated about Bradbury’s writing.  I have no idea when I first read the book, but my Science Fiction Book Club edition has 1978 written on the flyleaf.  About that time the stories were made into a television miniseries, somewhat altered to knit them more tightly together.  Bradbury reportedly didn’t think much of it, but I recently replaced my old VCR tapes with a DVD edition.  That’s still sitting on my To Be Watched shelf (which competes in growing content with my To Be Read shelves), but I remember the shots of the Martian sand ships skimming across the arid, dying landscape.

For a man who might easily have been called the Poet Laureate of Mars, Bradbury remained remarkably earthbound.  He didn’t fly, didn’t drive a car, and wrote on a typewriter.  But his stories influenced generations of astronauts and scientists, writers and artists, and countless readers who look up at the stars and see the future.

Thank you, Mr. Bradbury.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laurie A. Green
    Jun 10, 2012 @ 14:27:52

    Lovely tribute, Kay. “Poet Laureate of Mars.” 🙂

    Ray Bradbury was such a giant in the SF genre and an extraordinary visionary as a human being (even predicting the e-book revolution!) He will be missed.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Jun 10, 2012 @ 14:35:25

      I went to Half-Price Books this morning to buy a birthday present for a friend (like I need an excuse) and picked up two of Bradbury’s books that I have never read, Let’s All Kill Constance, a mystery published in 2003, and Bradbury Speaks, a collection of essays published in 2005. Like I need more books To Be Read, but I’m looking forward to these.

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