Bradbury’s sci-fi fantasies transcend time
RICHARD ROEP E R firstname.lastname@example.org June 6, 2012 9:14PM
Author Ray Bradbury is shown in this Jan. 29, 1997 photo. The science-fiction writer is trying out a new genre - the theater - at the Ritz Theater in Sheffield, in Alabama. (AP Photo/Steve Castillo)
Updated: July 8, 2012 7:03PM
Ray Bradbury cost me at least one night of sleep.
I was about 12 when I read Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories Bradbury had written in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Most of the stories of humankind’s colonization of Mars were set in the distant future, with the first one taking place in 1999 — which must have seemed like a nearly unreachable era to the young Bradbury crafting his tales in post-World War II America.
I’m not sure if I bought a paperback copy of the “The Martian Chronicles” or if I borrowed a copy from the Dolton Library. What I do remember is reading a story called “The Third Expedition,” sometimes called “Heaven on Earth.”
The Bradbury Chronicles
When a crew of Americans arrive on Mars, they’re thrilled to find a small town straight from their childhood memories.
“Around the rocket in four directions spread the little town, green and motionless in the Martian spring,” wrote Bradbury.
“There were white houses and red brick ones, and tall elm trees blowing in the wind, and tall maples and horse chestnuts. And church steeples with golden bells silent in them.”
Captain John Black is suspicious, asking how it can be that two planets could have such specifically similar environments and cultural developments, from a piano glimpsed through a living room window to a type of geranium that has been on Earth for only 50 years.
“This town out here looks . . . so much like Green Bluff, Illinois that it frightens me,” says Captain Black. “It’s too much like Green Bluff.”
Soon the crew members see long-lost family members: grandparents, parents, siblings. Captain Black’s own suspicions are washed away when he’s reunited with his brother Ed, who had died at 26, and his parents. (“Mother was just the same and Dad bit off the end of a cigar and lighted it thoughtfully in the old fashion. [His mother] was wearing the same perfume he remembered from the summer when she and Dad had been killed in the train accident.”)
Later, in the quiet of the night, Black gets to thinking. “Suppose all these houses aren’t real at all, this bed not real, but only figments of my own imagination . . . Suppose these Martians have made this seem like my old home town, my old house.”
Captain Black tries to leave the house, but he hears his “brother’s” voice, now quite cold, asking, “Where do you think you’re going?”
Black runs across the room, but never reaches the door.
The pride of Waukegan
As Captain John Black notes in “The Third Expedition,” they say childhood memories are the clearest. It’s been a long time since the 12-year-old me read that story, but I remember how it chilled the heck out of me and robbed me of my sleep for a night, as I replayed the images created from that story.
This is what Ray Bradbury did in story after story after story — some 27 books and more than 600 short stories, from The Martian Chronicles to Fahrenheit 451 to Something Wicked This Way Comes. He created amazing, wondrous, sometimes terrifying worlds. As Bradbury himself often said, he wasn’t a science fiction writer — he created fantasies.
Many of his works were adapted for TV and films. The Martian Chronicles was turned into a miniseries in 1980, adapted by the great Richard Matheson and starring Rock Hudson, Darren McGavin and Roddy McDowall. It strayed greatly from Bradbury’s stories and was not entirely successful. The 1980 big-screen version of “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce, was uneven but had its moments. In both cases, you’re much better off reading the original source material.
Born in 1920 in Waukegan, Mr. Bradbury passed away Tuesday night in Southern California at the age of 91.
His stories will live on well past the futuristic dates in which they were set.