I fell in love with Ray Bradbury’s beautiful poetic prose and his sharp psychological and socialogical insight when I picked up Faranheit 451. Although known as a science fiction writer, it seems to me that the alternate worlds he creates in order to render his discourse and express his love and fear for humanity are predominately settings/landscapes in which to explore his philosophies as another writer might use New York, Africa, a particular historical period. Having said that. science fiction creates the ultimate ‘what if’ scenario that allows writers like Bradbury and Margaret Atwood (who is seen to write both literary and science fiction) to extend the possible scenarios in which characters must grapple with challenging and unique psychological, physical and philosophical conundrums.
Now reading Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, it is a delight to explore with him a series of scenarios that bring into focus questions about topics including the nature of reality, religious belief, cultural imperialism and self serving biases. Above all it is told convincingly but with a sense of wonder and as I have said with this gorgeous prose, particularly in the opening chapters, the scenes and emotions of which have already made a lasting impression. I’m purposely not discussing the subject matter apart from the fact that the book charts a series of expeditions from Earth to Mars but does it from the viewpoints of both the explorers and explored.
What particularly struck me is that the prose and manner of storytelling is absolutely modern, told in succinct bursts – each a short story in itself but informing the larger whole, the tale of what happened in humanities attempt to colonise Mars. But what is also remarkable is the prescience shown by Bradbury in a book that was published 60 years ago, in 1951. True the concerns are human and political ones, ever enduring down the ages and are absolutely relevant today.
But is was a specific prescient detail that stopped me in my tracks in the early pages of the book. We move through a Martian house to a close up of it’s owner Mr K by himself in his room reading from a metal book. Immediately the Kindle sprang to mind! While the Kindle has E-ink to render it more apparently tactile, this one had ‘raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp’. Bradbury goes on to describe that a voice sang stories as the fingers brushed over. Perhaps not an e-reader then but an audio book, extraordinary and other worldly but rooted in the physical. Still the initial impression of the ‘metal book’ displays the extent of Bradbury’s imagination, his prose and intelligence testimony to all the possibilities (both creative and destructive) of humanity.