The Martian Chronicles

I’d actually forgotten this was on my Classics Club Book List and just started reading it because I saw it on the shelf. Now I have to write something. But first …

I just read some really exciting literary news that I want to share with you. There’s going to be a web-series re-telling of The Scarlet Pimpernel in a modern setting (think something like what The Lizzie Bennet Diaries did with Pride and Prejudice). You can find more about it at Yet Another Period Drama blog or The Day Dream blog. It sounds fantastic, and I’m so looking forward to seeing it next year.

Anyway, back to Mars.

*insert obligatory spoiler warning*

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. All I knew was that it was written by Ray Bradbury (which pretty much guaranteed it would be intriguing) and it had something to do with Mars. The inside cover of my edition reads, “Ray Bradbury’s Mars is a place of hope dreams, and metaphor.” With that introduction, I was not expecting more than 20 people to have been killed by page 65 (and many more in the following pages). Warning: this is not a “happy” book.

If you’re not expecting a light, happy read, though, this book is fascinating. I think most of us know by now that Mars is not inhabited (as least not by aliens of this sort), but the world Bradbury creates on Mars still seems entirely possible. He has no trouble convincing his readers into a “willing suspension of disbelief,” probably because he doesn’t try. He just writes these stories as if they are real (but more in the sense of myth than history), and we’re perfectly happy to go right along with this fiction.

One of my favorite parts of the book was actually Bradbury’s introduction (You might be a writer if … you’re as intrigued by the author’s description of his writing process as you are by the book itself). He describes the stories that became The Martian Chronicles as “a series of Martian penseés, Shakespearean ‘asides,’ wandering thoughts, long night visions, predawn half-dreams.” He thought they weren’t anything special, until an editor “suggested that I might have woven an unseen tapestry.”

The Martian Chronicles was published in 1950. Since then, it has never been out of print, and my edition notes that it “has been read by more readers around the world than almost any other work of science fiction.” But Bradbury himself didn’t think of it as “science fiction.” This is what he said this book was:

It is King Tut out of the tomb when I was three, Norse Eddas when I was six, and Roman/Greek gods that romanced me when I was ten: pure myth. If it had been practical technologically efficient science fiction, it would have long since fallen to rust by the road. But since it is a self-separating fable, even the most deeply rooted physicists at Cal-Tech accept breathing the fraudulent oxygen atmosphere I have loosed on Mars. Science and machines can kill each other off or be replaced. Myth, seen in mirrors, incapable of being touched, stays on. If it is not immortal, it almost seems such.” — Ray Bradbury, introduction to The Martian Chronicles

Religion on Mars

There are so many threads that weave together The Martian Chronicles. It covers book banning, inadvertent genocide, the nature of man, implications of telepathy, ethics of murder — the list goes on and on. So I’m going to pick just one “thread” to talk about here, and that’s religion.

On Mars, science and religion are not incompatible — they are interconnected. Unfortunately, we only learn this after most of the Martians are already gone and it is too late for the knowledge to help mankind put back together what we separated.

Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” — Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

Mankind has it all wrong, according to one character who may or may not have lost his mind. Instead of letting science, religion, and art flow into each other, as the Martians did, we tried to separate them. In the process, we lost ourselves and our faith. Then, not content with damaging one world and its people, we moved on to Mars, and killed it.

But The Martian Chronicles isn’t just about all the mistakes humanity made as a whole. It’s about the individuals who lived, loved, killed, and died for a whole host of different reasons. It’s about the priest who believes that even the glowing blue lights on Mars — the last Martians — have a soul and deserve to hear about Christ. It’s about the father who launched his family toward an abandoned Mars to save them from a dying earth. It’s about the young Martian whose telepathy turned him/her into a chameleon as he/she tried desperately to cure their loneliness by becoming a human family’s dead child. It’s about how these people respond to the unknown, and what beliefs they cling to in the end.

I read this book quickly, because I was so intrigued by it, but not so quickly as I have read other novels. It demands more than a cursory glance, and I think it warrants at least one re-reading. If you like “thinking books,” or sci-fi of any kind, I highly recommend giving The Martian Chronicles a try.


Click here to get a copy of The Martian Chronicles. Please note that this is an affiliate link. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.

Robin Hood Meeteth the Lord of Time

I knew I would love the latest Doctor Who episode, “The Robots of Sherwood.” I’ve been curious about it since the first set photo of Clara in a Medieval dress was released, and giddy with anticipation when the title let me know it had something to do with Robin Hood. I can’t remember not being fascinated by Robin Hood. The first time I met him was in the animated Disney film, which my Mom says we brought home from the library so often that the librarians teased her, “Aren’t you ever going to buy that movie?” I vaguely recall finding a copy of Howard Pyle’s “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” in a little back corner of the library, then buying my own copy and wearing it out (quite literally — the cover fell off).

“There’s no such thing as Robin Hood”

“The Robots of Sherwood” begins with Clara making a request I can easily identify with: take me to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor obliges by setting course for 1190-ish, though he maintains that Robin Hood is merely a legend even after the TARDIS is shot by the famous bowman. The episode progresses in a lighthearted story that covers classic elements of both Doctor Who and Robbin Hood, and culminates with a conversation between the Doctor and Robin about how history lost sight of Robin the man and turned him into stories, much like the stories Clara tells Robin about the Doctor.

Doctor: “I’m not a hero.”

Robin: “Neither am I. But if we both keep pretending to be, perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps, we will both be stories.”

Are They Heroes?

As a child-fan of Robin Hood, I saw him as an heroic figure — the good in a good-verses-evil conflict. But even the versions of the legends specifically written for children have a complicated definition of morality. Robin Hood steals and kills people (typically in defending himself or others) to fight against a government which commits worse crimes. But does he really have the right to take justice into his own hands when his country’s law dictates that justice belongs to appointed authority figures and his God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”? (Robin is presented as Catholic in most legends.) I want to root for him and justify his every action, but I can’t always do that.

Errol Flynn (who the Doctor has apparently fenced with) as Robin Hood

It’s much the same with the Doctor. He flies around the universe saving people, but there’s often a lot of things that go wrong. As a show, Doctor Who has a surprisingly high casualty rate. In the tenth episode of “new-Who,” the 9th Doctor joyfully shouts, “Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once — everybody lives!” And as far as I can remember, it really was “just this once” that everyone makes it to the end credits alive. And the Doctor has a thoroughly dark side which complicates defining him as a hero (if you need convincing, here’s an article discussing the Doctor’s 13 Darkest Moments).

So, are they heroes? Depends on your definition.

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. — Joseph Campbell

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. — Christopher Reeve

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

These sound like rather good descriptions of the Doctor and Robin Hood. I couldn’t find the quote (even with Google’s help!), but I read once that heroes are simply people who’ve been observed doing what good men do as a matter of course. There’s some question of whether or not the Doctor qualifies as a “good man,” but he has been seen doing good and heroic things. As for Robin, all but the earliest legends present him as someone who does more good than harm. Even if they’re not “heroes,” they want to be.

The “Real” Robin Hood

Robin Hood by Louis Rhead

Speaking of the earliest legends, I’m going to digress for a moment and talk about my one peeve with how this episode portrays Robin Hood. I’ve done no little research into the history of the Robin Hood legends, and know that the earliest tales set him during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377), not during the time of King Richard and Prince John. The earliest version of his character that we can track down presents him as a “famous cutthroat” and “forest outlaw” who was both intriguingly mysterious and alarmingly unknowable (Stephen Knight; Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography).

Now, for Doctor Who’s version we could say that the Robin legends took on a sinister aspect in the 100-some years following Clara and the Doctor’s meeting with the “real” Robin, before shifting back to something closer to “reality” in the 1590s, when stories of Robin Hood as a displaced earl begin showing up. But it would have been much more in keeping with the records we have of Robin Hood legends, to present Robin Hood in Doctor Who as a clever, outlawed yeoman. Someone could have at least done enough research to know that the legend of Robin Hood splitting his opponent’s arrows at an archery tournament didn’t show up at all until the 1820 publication of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (though it did make for a humorous scene with the Doctor).

Perhaps Mark Gatiss, who wrote this episode, agrees with his version of Robin Hood that,  “History is a burden; stories can make us fly.” And I’m inclined to cut him some slack, in terms of how “authentic” Robin Hood has to be for Doctor Who. Most viewers just want to see the typical aspects of Robin Hood — the fight on a bridge between Robin Hood and a stranger, the archery competition for a golden arrow, the battle between Robin and the Sheriff of Nottingham — with the familiar Earl of Locksley back-story. At this point, trying to bring Robin back to something the Doctor and Clara might actually have discovered in history would have been more confusing than anything else. Gatiss made up for ignoring the oldest Robin Hood source material by including references to multiple version of Robin Hood in film, an almost-quote from Shakespeare, and several nods to both classic and new-Who. All-in-all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable, though fairly typical, episode of Doctor Who.

Thoughts On The New Doctor

I started watching Doctor Who a few years after “new Who” started, begining with Eccleston and continuing on in order. I liked Nine, but fell in love with Ten. Even though I was still catching up at that point, knew it was coming, and had Matt Smith episodes that I could watch, I went into mourning for a month after he regenerated and refused to watch any of Eleven’s episodes. But I finally did, and I liked him almost instantly.

And then just a few years later he left. By that time I’d caught up with all the episodes, so there wasn’t the assurance of knowing who’d replace him. It was, in many ways, more traumatic than David Tennant leaving because on top of losing a Doctor I loved, I didn’t know who might replace him. It could have been anyone — a woman, an American (the Horror!), a non-Whovian …

… and then it was Peter Capaldi, and I stopped freaking out. That’s when some of my friends started freaking out, though — he’s too old and too grumpy and shouldn’t be trusted with our favorite character. But I had a good feeling about him for some reason.

SPOILER WARNING

I think I was right. It takes a while the first episode after the Doctor regenerates for him to settle into a personality, and he flitted through a few of the old ones before we got a good sense of who he’ll be now (including asking for a very long scarf and screaming “Geronimo”). Still, I think I’m going to like the Doctor this way. And I have very, very high hopes for the upcoming “Robot of Sherwood” episode (I’m a bit obsessed with Robin Hood legends. Actually Medieval things in general).

There’s plenty of in-depth reviews already, so I’ll just touch on a couple things I though were of note …

Steampunk title sequence! Last time they changed the title and music I was upset, but this time I liked it. I suppose the gears are actually supposed to make me think of time and watches rather than steampunk, but who cares — it was cool. Like bow ties.

The cameo appearance of Matt Smith might not have been surprising for some people, but it was for me. And it was splendid. Clara needed it, and I think some of Matt’s fans probably did, too. *cue sobbing*

“Girl In The Fireplace” is my favorite episode, so I loved the parallels here. Well, “loved” in the sense that I liked how it reminded me of this episode even though robots harvesting human beings for spare parts is bloody creepy.

Clara was splendid. There have been rumors floating around that Jenna Coleman will be leaving in the Christmas episode, and I really hope that’s not true. I’ve liked her as a companion, and I like her even more after seeing her stand up to Madam Vastra and try to convince The Doctor that she’s not an egomaniac by shouting “Nothing is more important than my egomania!”

One of my favorite scenes is where the Doctor is talking with a homeless man (didn’t catch his name, but planetclaire.org says it’s Barney) about his new face.

The Doctor: Why this one? Why did I choose this face? It’s like I’m trying to tell myself something. Like I’m trying to make a point. But what is so important that I can’t just tell myself what I’m thinking? I’m not just being rhetorical here. You can join in.
Barney: I don’t like it.
The Doctor: What?
Barney: Your face.
The Doctor: Well I don’t like it either. I mean it’s alright up to the eyebrows. Then it just goes haywire. Look at the eyebrows! These are attack eyebrows. You could take bottle caps off with these.
Barney: They are mighty eyebrows indeed sir.
The Doctor: They’re cross. They’re crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross! They probably want to cede from the rest of my face and set up their own independent state of eyebrows. That’s Scot, I am Scottish and I’ve gone Scottish.
Barney: Yes you are. You are definitely Scot sir. I hear it in your voice.

Love the bit of Scottish attitude that’s showing up along with his new accent, and I particularly like the more reflective side we’re glimpsing in this Doctor as he puzzles over why he chose this face — what message his past selves are trying to send him. On the same subject, there’s a particularly heart-tugging line of dialogue at the end where he tells Clara, “You can’t see me, can you? You look at me and you can’t see. Do you have any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right here. Standing in front of you. Please just… just see me.”

We see you, Mr. Capaldi. And you look like The Doctor. Not my Doctor perhaps, but certainly a Doctor we can learn to love.

12th Doctor Sale going on at my Etsy store until the end of August

 

Love in the Enderverse

Cover of the only version of Ender’s Game I could find in the library

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender books. Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say I’ve been absorbed by them. So far, I’ve finished Ender’s Game, the three sequels, and four of the Shadow books (Shadows in Flight is waiting for me on the bookshelf). After finishing these books, I feel like I know the characters better than many people I’ve been friends with for years.

I’d been meaning to read more Orson Scott Card for some time, since I stumbled upon one of his short stories in a sci-fi collection. Ender’s Game moved to the top of my reading list after I found out it’s going to be a film. I wanted to read the book before Hollywood ruins it (don’t get me wrong — I’m going to see the movie and it might be good, but there’s no way it can be as good as the book).

The Ideas

It’s not just the amazing characters that make these books so compelling. The ideas that Card presents in his stories are some of the most fascinating I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Ender’s key to defeating an enemy is just a sample of these compelling ideas (quote is from Ender’s Game, the idea shows up in all the books).

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.

Don’t you just want to give him a hug? Anyway, this is the idea I’ve pondered the most since starting this series: when you fully understand someone and see through their eyes, you can’t help but love them. This is underscored (for me at least) by my reaction to the characters. By the end of Ender’s Game, I knew him and felt for him. I had similar connections with Bean in Ender’s Shadow and Peter in the other Shadow books, especially Shadow of the Giant. Orson Scott Card wrote the characters so well that readers can understand them well enough to love them (to the point that I finished three of these eight books in tears not necessary because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed by how much I sympathized with the characters).

A Spiritual Question

One of the thoughts this idea — the connection between understanding someone and loving them — has sparked in my mind is a possible answer to a spiritual question. Just reading though the Bible, I can accept “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). But when I start to think about this a little more deeply it’s mind-blowing. Christ didn’t come to die only for the good “lovable” people in the world. He died for and loved everyone, even the people we would classify as the most unlovable. How is such love possible?

Since reading books from the Enderverse, I’ve been wondering if God’s love for everyone might have something to do with the fact that He is all-knowing. He understands everything  and sees into our hearts, and even when He does not approve of our actions or is angry with us, He loves perfectly. It’s an interesting “something to think about.”

If you’d like to try reading these novels, here’s a list of books in the series. It shows both publication order and a (rough) chronological order in the Enderverse.