surprised by Martians

'Mars Rovers' photo (c) 2010, Idaho National Laboratory - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I’ve begun reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950) for the Coursera course that begins later this month. I never had the opportunity to take a course on Fantasy and Science Fiction in my course work for any of my degrees, and this looked like it would be interesting, as well as fit into my busy schedule.

The reading list was not released until recently, except for two works: The Martian Chronicles and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). They will come near the end of the course, but I’m trying to read ahead a little.

Although I knew of Bradbury, I never read any of his works, but did see the film version of Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and I knew he worked on the screenplay for the Gregory Peck version of Moby Dick (1956), which I have also seen a few times. I didn’t really know what to expect from The Martian Chronicles, except for some science fiction, of course. I guess I had those 50s era sci-fi movies in mind–The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)–and maybe some of that will show up, but I’m completely surprised by what I’ve read so far. I’m only about 40 pages in and the novel comes off as a cross between Winesburg, Ohio (1919) and the Twilight Zone television series (1959-64) where everything is kind of quaint and ordinary, yet slightly off. I did not expect that at all. I did not expect to be amused, particularly by the Martians, even with their odd yellow eyes. Surprise is a good reading motivator.

I’m not going to read any criticism before finishing the novel, but I won’t be surprised to find discussions of a postmodern sensibility and tone in this post-WWII work. I will be interested to find out what sort of influence the work had on later science fiction, including that well-known television series I mentioned. Expect to hear more about the curriculum in this course, as well as about the MOOC experience in general, although this is not my first such course. I will definitely let you know if my delight with this book holds up through to the end.

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3 replies

  1. Beginning tomorrow (Tuesday) the Library of America is supposed to activate a set of web materials related to their forthcoming American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s. Could be interesting, and maybe some of these works will be covered in your course: http://www.loa.org/volume.jsp?RequestID=373

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  2. http://www.loa.org/sciencefiction/

    The LOA American Science Fiction companion site.

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