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The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury - Book Review

As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book; rather, it is to examine how the book relates to the meaning of life.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is a collection of short stories and narratives about the planet Mars, future exploration of the planet, its inhabitants, and ourselves as Earthlings between the fictional years of 1999 and 2026. The book was published over 70 years ago in 1950. On a side note, non-fictional, as of writing this blog article in 2023, humans still haven't stepped foot on Mars, and it appears a mission could happen as early as 2029.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

In one of the longer narratives that took place in 2001, called "and the Moon Be Still as Bright," Spender, a soldier that sympathizes with the plight of Mars and the Martians, defects. Though all the Martians are dead (or just about all dead), Spender plans to defend Mars at all costs, to prevent future exploitation of the planet, and to preserve what the Martians had discovered about life, even to the extent of killing his comrades. Spender tries to convert the captain into doing the same:

Spender: We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are a lost people.

Captain: And these Martians are found people?

Spender: Yes. They knew how to combine science and religion so the two worked side by side, neither denying the other, each enriching the other.

Spender then takes the captain to a Martian settlement to show him the remains of a dead civilization.

Spender: The Martians discovered the secret of life among animals. The animal does not question life. It lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys and relishes life.

Spender: Man had become too much man and not enough animal on Mars too. And the men of Mars realized that in order to survive they would have to forgo asking one question any longer: 'Why live' Life was its own answer. Life was the propagation of more life and the living of as good as life as possible. The Martians realized that they asked the question 'Why life at all?' at the height of some period of war and despair, when there was no answer. But once the civilization calmed, quieted, and wars ceased, the question became senseless in a new way. Life was now good and needed no arguments.

Bradbury, through the character Spender, highlights how the meaning of life, as defined by humans, is in fact changing with time. There was a time when humankind did not ask such a question, and perhaps somewhere in the future, humankind will return to that state, just as the Martians did after the wars and senseless killing ceased. In the interim, religion and philosophy fill our inner void. But as fewer people look towards religion for answers—less people believe in god, the emptiness within only expands, until we find another source of solace, escape, or inner peace. The author would go on in later chapters to also talk about how science outpaced social evolution, and we as people get lost in a mechanical wilderness which eventually leads to war and the destruction of humankind on Earth.

The purpose of this blog is only to examine parts of the book that deal with purpose and meaning of life. The Martian Chronicles, though highly rated, never really caught our attention or interest. There is controversy with the chapter "Way in the Middle of the Air." The chapter uses offensive language, e.g., the N-Word, and other offensive racial stereotypes. Though the chapter was written to show how absurd and wrong racism was/is in America, the chapter has been edited out of some versions of the book because of the controversy. Overall, again, though the book has high praise and reviews, does touch upon some philosophical questions, and perhaps was even ahead of its time, we just couldn't get into it. But as Alan Alda one stated, The meaning of life is life. Check out over 200 more great quotes on the meaning of life here.

If you read the book, tell us what you thought and what we missed by commenting below.

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