As one of the best-known authors of science fiction, Ray Bradbury played a significant role in not only making the genre more widely popular, but also to legitimize the form critically among mainstream critics. His unique blend of poetic nostalgia, imaginative flights of fancy, and allegorical social commentary
Ray Douglas Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois. His family moved several times, returning to Waukegan each time, before settling down in Los Angeles in 1934. In his teen years he befriended another future legend of science fiction, Forest Ackerman, who published some of Bradbury's earliest stories in fanzines. Even in high school, Bradbury saw how writing the kind of fiction he enjoyed --speculative stories of fantasy and science - earned him less recognition than "legitimate" fiction. However, he stuck with his passion and through stories published in homemade fanzines and magazines such as Weird Tales, Bradbury earned a reputation among the still-nascent circles of science fiction and fantasy fandom.
During a trip to New York in 1949, editors at Doubleday asked him if he would consider having his science fiction stories published as a collection for their fledgling imprint devoted to the genre. For several years, Bradbury had considered doing a version of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio set on Mars, and this was his opportunity to pursue it. This thematic combination would later be quintessential Bradbury: taking a folksy nostalgia for small town America and giving it a rocket age twist that made it new and strange in the eyes of readers. Bradbury had three months to pull together previously published stories and write new stories for what would be The Martian Chronicles; to make the stories more coherent, he wrote short vignettes, prose-poem bridges that built on his view of Mars being colonized by Earth in the same manner the Europeans colonized the Americas.
At the time of the Chronicles, Bradbury was undergoing through major changes in his life, both personal and professional: recently married, he had his first child with wife Marguerite, and was emerging as an important voice in speculative fiction: not just science fiction, but also horror and fantasy; not just fiction but poetry and soon other media. The stories in Bradbury's first collection reflected concerns that would develop in later works: the idea of a thematically-tied short story collection would be revisited in The Illustrated Man, and the theme of censorship from "Usher II" would blossom into his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451.
When it was published, The Martian Chronicles was a sensation - first among science fiction fans, then among the broader readership of the mainstream. It also cemented Ray Bradbury's reputation, which quickly expanded as he became America's best-known author of the future. Bradbury's imaginative takes on human nature appeared not only in print, but also television, movies, comic books, and radio programs. Bradbury enjoyed working in different forms as well as in different genres: science fiction is what he's always been best known for, with stories such as "A Sound of Thunder" becoming instant classics of the genre, but he also wrote memorable horror stories such as the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. He not only watched as adaptations of his fiction took place, he often took part in writing those adaptations.
Among the awards he's earned in his long and distinguished career are
the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of
America in 1988, and the National Medal of Arts in 2004. He also has an
asteroid named after him, a crater on the moon named after his novel Dandelion
Wine, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - all testaments to
the range and breadth of his career.
Science fiction - and genre fiction in general - was not considered legitimate literature at the time Ray Bradbury wrote The Martian Chronicles. Wary of the label of science fiction, Bradbury tried to have it removed from the trade dress on this book. He failed to do so but successfully lobbied to have the title removed from the cover of his next collection, The Illustrated Man.
For his part, Bradbury wanted to move outside of the perceived limitations of genre fiction, as he believed his work had a universal appeal. The metaphors he employed may be about technology and what may happen in the future, but Bradbury was always more concerned with the passions of the human heart. If anything, critics partial to science fiction would sometimes fault Bradbury for not being as scientific in his stories - to be more of a science fantasist, concerned with the beauty of metaphor more than the logic of technology - than purists would like. As a result, he is revered in science fiction circles for his imagination, but not for the plausibility of his ideas.
Despite this caveat - or perhaps because of it - Bradbury's work was accessible
to mainstream readers who would otherwise ignore genre fiction. Indeed,
Christopher Isherwood's positive review of The Martian Chronicles
in Tomorrow magazine did a great deal to legitimize Bradbury's
accomplishment in the eyes of the mainstream literary world. Other critics
also paid attention to Bradbury's idiosyncratic combination of small town
reverie with elements of the fantastic and The Martian Chronicles
helped expand his career beyond the narrow circles of science fiction
Cite this page:
Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on The Martian Chronicles".
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