Would you believe it if I said I had just been to Mars?
Yes, you heard right, the red planet was where I spent a little over a week. I was part of the third expedition along with 16 other people including captain Jack Black. There were two other expeditions before us, but I would rather you read later about what happened to them.
The rocket had landed on the other side from the previous two expeditions. From within the rocket, we could see a little Martian town with white houses and those of red bricks and tall elm trees, maples and chestnuts. I stood there agape as I looked at the piano in the distance, hearing the symphony play. Beside me, Captain Black also was equally stunned, looking out at what looked like Green Bluff, Illinois. What was this, we wondered – a divine intervention, had we circled back to Earth or what? Someone said the only explanation was that Mars travel began well before the World War I. We didn’t know what to believe.
Things turned even more bizarre when the four of us – me, the captain and two crew members stepped out into the Martian world. We were knocking on doors to figure out this weird planet when one of the crew members ran off. We followed him. He stood in front of a open door and was hugging someone. He called out to us – ‘Captain, meet my grandparents.’ We shook hands and they recounted how then had been living on Mars since they died. We stood startled. They said they had been given a second to live on the fourth planet. Was this heaven then?
Just as we bid them goodbye, we saw the crew members greeting their long lost relatives, someone tapped my shoulder and there were my cousins. One had died when I was a kid, the other later. They took me to what seemed like our ancestral house. I saw Captain Black and others going with their kin too. We spent the most amazing day but I couldn’t sleep at night. Was all this real? What if it wasn’t? What if these were Martians, who wanted to destroy us by catching us off guard? What if they had used a mix of telepathy, hypnosis, memory and imagination to lure us? What if they had projected our own memories to make this Martian town look like one on Earth? I tried to sneak off from the house but got caught.
The next morning, if you were there you could see 17 tombstones being laid to rest on the planet.
Wicked, isn’t it? Darn! I wish this was my imagination. But this is actually a short adaptation of a chapter from Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, which you must must read. Bradbury paints such a vivid picture of the red planet and its inhabitants that I can confidently say I have been to Mars.
But as imaginative as his rendition of the red planet is, what is awe inspiring is how The Martian Chronicles is more a statement on us Earthlings than the Martians. By examining the possibility of us taking over Mars, Bradbury exposes the shallowness of the human race – right from racism to consumerism to the futility of war.
After Martians are decimated by a disease, we Earthlings take over the planet. Loads of people move to Mars – some to start over, some to escape racism, some to get away from the looming war on Earth and some to build Mars up for the elite. In the pretext of adjusting Mars to our sensibilities, we demolish everything that is intrinsic to the planet. Their books, their architecture is all destroyed without even a blink. These words of the protagonist ring true ‘We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves’ when a member of the fourth exhibition breaks glass from a old Martian building to set up a hot dog stand. Bradbury makes a scathing attack on how artistic works matter little to people driven by consumerism, so much so that they can’t even see the beauty of the work.
Meanwhile, there is a Great War looming on Earth. When it starts, people leave Mars and head back to the green planet, to their people. But when the war ends, there is no Earth, the Earth is gone. This is the chilling end to war, according to Bradbury – the annihilation of the planet.
But, he doesn’t destroy all humankind. He gives them another chance. A family makes it way to Mars, intent to start over, burning the old rules of the Earth that proved wrong and that strangled the planet. The family that stares back at you from the Martian canal is no longer reminiscent of Earth but inhabitants of a new dawn on Mars.
As genius as the plot is, it is Bradbury’s writing that makes it a classic. The words flow seamlessly into sentences and sentences into chapters to build an alternate reality for you. It is one of the works that stays with you long after you have finished the book and which even compels a lazy person like me to write. I only hope I have done it some justice.
Ps: The adaptation is my favourite part of the book. I wish Bradbury would have just gone on with Mars and Martians but his comment on our society is just as amazing.