18 August 2012

The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury)

The day Bradbury died (June 5th), I realized I didn't actually own any of his books. Why would I, really--my parents had an old paperback edition of The Martian Chronicles that I read over and over (this one! Holy Toledo, but that's evocative), as well as this version of  I Sing the Body Electric; my Uncle Kurt and Aunt Laura had similarly-vintaged copies of Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. So I was well stocked as a youth. But here, on my bookshelves? Not a one. Luckily, as you may have heard, I work in a bookstore, and I went home with the badassedly-cover-arted edition to the left (painted by Michael Whelan, who won the Hugo for Best Professional Artist thirteen times in twenty-two years, wow).

I don't remember how old I was when I first read this collection--young enough that 1999, when the first stories take place, seemed pretty far off. Now, except for the last three, they're all at least seven years in the past. Bradbury's certainly among the first sci-fi/fantasy authors I read, in the company of Douglas Adams, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and Madeline L'Engle. Encountering writers like these in my formative years probably made it inevitable that I'd never make a distinction between "genre" and "good."

My favorite stories haven't changed over the years. There's "The Earth Men," where the ill-fated Second Expedition from Earth is shocked to find the Martian populace so blasé about their feat, until they find themselves locked in an insane asylum with other "Earthlings"; "The Third Expedition," a tiny horror masterpiece; "Usher II," one of my first encounters with the work of Edgar Allan Poe (along with an awesome chunky little Classics Illustrated tome); "The Martian," where one of the few remaining natives uses grief and telepathy to try to carve a niche for himself in an Earth town.

Beyond all of these, though, is the first thing I thought of when I heard of Bradbury's death--the appropriately elegaic "There Will Come Soft Rains," an account of an automated house proceeding in its course long after the deaths of its inhabitants, a story I can hardly think of without crying.

Another thing I realized just now that made me tear up: Bradbury missed--by two months--the incredible landing of the Curiosity rover on the red planet. If not for his writing, I wouldn't have been nearly so excited by the news.

EDIT 8/23/12: Yesterday--which would have been Bradbury's 92nd birthday--Curiosity left its landing site, and NASA announced the spot would be dubbed "Bradbury's Landing." *sniffle*

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