Someone once told Ray Bradbury that “The Martian Chronicles” was not prose, but poetry. Technically, he was probably wrong, but in spirit truer words were probably never spoken.
I have a habit of reading several books at once. I will pick up one, read a few pages (unless it is so engrossing that I cannot put it down), then later pick up another and read a few pages or so of it, then still later read a few pages of another and so forth until I may be reading half a dozen books a few pages at a time. Then I may finish one and pick up another, something like the juggler who keeps the china plates spinning on sticks.
I picked up “The Martian Chronicles” while on a trip to Santa Fe in December, 2012 at The Collected Works bookstore. Since then it has stayed in my suitcase and I pick it up and read more every time I travel.
I have not read much of late and have written less, but on trip last week, I made use of my relatively new Kindle for the first time and read three stories of Poe’s (“A Descent into the Maelstrom”, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, and “The Imp of the Perverse”) along with the original German version of “Little Red Riding Hood” by the Brothers Grimm. This has started my interest in literature and writing to smoulder once again. After I returned home, I decided to take “The Martian Chronicles” out of the suitcase and reluctantly finish it.
I say “reluctantly” because, while reading it, it is one of those beautifully eloquent novels that you don’t want to put down much less ever see come to an end. On those nights I read a few chapters at a time in the comfort of a well-kept hotel, I never really wanted to put it down and only did so when the hour was late and I was struggling to stay awake after a long day, a good suppper, and a few glasses of wine.
The stories are always poignant, captivating, and sometimes heart-rending. The characters have a depth that draws you in as if you could step inside their bodies and see their world from their perspectives. Of course, your tendency is to side with the humans as they colonize the red planet, but at the same time you sympathize with the Martians as they watch their civilization dwindle and gradually vanish under the onslaught of alien explorers and settlers. However, what is the most beautiful facet of the novel is its use of English.
Bradbury’s nascent style (as I understand from one website, he had been writing seriously only seven years when he
published this, his first novel) uses simple, clear, easy-to-understand prose that highlights only enough important details to enable the reader to vicariously experience the story. The fact that the prose is very simple and lacking in needlessly ostentatious words helps the reader to see clearly the interaction of the characters and their mindsets and the underlying motivations and plots. For me, if a work is full of big words, I spend too much time either trying to decipher them or running to the dictionary that I lose the tenuous feeling for what is happening in the story. His use of language clarifies rather than obscures. The sentences are generally of medium length and this helps the story to flow without becoming monotonous.
The plots of the stories are deceptively simple in design, but most still manage to have an unexpected denouement that leaves the reader feeling like a simpleton that he did not see it coming. Some, though, have such completely unexpected endings that there is no way they could be anticipated but in retrospect the denouement is incredibly logical. The first chapters describing explorer’s first encounters with the Martians are wonderful examples of this while the story I read only last night, “The Off Season”, has such a brilliantly ironic twist that it has to be a prime example of Bradbury’s genius.
I suppose I could continue on for a while raving about Bradbury’s art, but it is getting late and I have had a long day and still have dinner and drinks awaiting my arrival at home.
But what has any of this admiration for a science-fiction writer’s skill have to do with the art of writing?
Beauty is beauty no matter what the genre. Skill in writing is skill in writing.
I wish I had at least a smidgen of Bradbury’s talent so that I could make use of it in the field of horror. What depths of emotion and terror could I then reach?
Having read “Fahrenheit 451” many years ago, next on my list of Bradbury works is “The Illustrated Man”. I can hardly wait, but will probably have to–having five or six other books that I am currently reading. Still…that hasn’t stopped me yet from picking up a novel to be explored.
Please, even if you are a diehard horror aficianado, read “The Martian Chronicles” to learn something about writing as an art that you can apply to your own endeavors. The experience will definitely be rewarding and perhaps even enlightening.