Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

The Martian Chronicles

When I was growing up, there were two genres of books that my granddad especially liked to read; there were westerns, particularly Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, and then there was sci-fi. I remember many times going to spend the night at his house and watching “The Twilight Zone” and “Amazing Stories” together. It was fantastic stuff. Also my Uncle Earl, the same one who got me into mysteries by giving me Agatha Christie books and all his old Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines, used to let me have all of his old Isaac Asimov magazines as well. Because of this, reading science fiction, and particularly the style of science fiction in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is like a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

The Martian Chronicles is a difficult book to review. This is mainly due to the fact that it’s really a collection of short stories that were originally published separately and then were fixed up by a publisher into one book with Ray Bradbury writing little connection pieces to connect all the pieces into more or less one big story. What comes out is something that is more than a collection of short stories but less than a novel. “Chronicles” is a good title choice; the book chronicles a span of 27 years, from 1999 through 2026, of man’s colonization of Mars. I don’t want to spoil the storyline, so I’m not going to give away much about the particular stories themselves. I will say, though, that there is a great variety in the types of stories told. Some are meant to be humorous, some darkly so, as with “The Earth Men” or “Ussher II”. Some border on “Twilight Zone”-style horror such as “And the Moon Be Still as Bright” and “The Earth Men”. Some are social commentary like “The Way in the Middle of the Air”. Some are poignant reflections on life and religion like “The Fire Balloons”. And even though I’m categorizing these stories broadly, they overlap as well, humor mingling with horror, high concept sci-fi with political satire.

I liked The Martian Chronicles much better than I expected to. I had wanted to read it for years, but kept putting it off until I was in the right mood. I expected something grittier and more somber. I should have known better with Bradbury. It was a pleasure to read from start to finish, a dose of pure, golden age science fiction, critical of society’s shortcomings, but not ultimately cynical or bitter. There is a celebration of life, literature, love, religion, and all the things that make humanity great while at the same time a warning to humanity about all the things we may use to destroy ourselves, envy, ignorance, and bureaucracy. Whether you’re an old fan of sci-fi, like myself, who has somehow managed to miss this book, or whether you’re new to the genre and want somewhere to start, I high recommend Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.