The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles is a 1950 science fiction story collection by Ray Bradbury that chronicles the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing from a troubled Earth, and the conflict between aboriginal Martians and the new colonists. The book lies somewhere between a short story collection and an episodic novel, containing Bradbury stories originally published in the late 1940s in science fiction magazines. For publication, the stories were loosely woven together with a series of short, interstitial vignettes. Bradbury has credited Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath as influences on the structure of the book. He has called it a "half-cousin to a novel" and "a book of stories pretending to be a novel". As such, it is similar in structure to Bradbury's short story collection, The Illustrated Man, which also uses a thin frame story to link various unrelated short stories.

Like Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, The Martian Chronicles follows a "future history" structure. The stories, complete in themselves, come together as episodes in a larger sequential narrative framework. The overall structure is tripartite, punctuated by two catastrophes: the near-extinction of the Martians and the parallel near-extinction of the human race. The first third (January 1999-April 2000) details the attempts of the Earthmen to reach Mars, and the various ways in which the Martians keep them from returning. In the crucial story —And the Moon be Still as Bright, it is revealed by the fourth exploratory expedition that the Martians have all but perished in a plague caused by germs brought by one of the previous expeditions. This unexpected development sets the stage for the second act (December 2001-November 2005), in which humans from Earth colonize the deserted planet, occasionally having contact with the few surviving Martians, but for the most part preoccupied with making Mars a second Earth. However, as war on Earth threatens, most of the settlers pack up and return home. A global nuclear war ensues, cutting off contact between Mars and Earth. The third act (December 2005-October 2026) deals with the aftermath of the war, and concludes with the prospect of the few surviving humans becoming the new Martians, a prospect already adumbrated in —And the Moon be Still as Bright, and which allows the book to return to its beginning.

The book was published in the United Kingdom in 1951 under the title The Silver Locusts, with slightly different contents: the story "The Fire Balloons" was added, and the story "Usher II" was removed to make room for it. In the Spanish language version, the stories were preceded by a prologue by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges.

A 1997 edition of the book advances all the dates by 31 years (thus running from 2030 to 2057), includes The Fire Balloons and replaces Way in the Middle of the Air (a story less topical in 1997 than in 1950) with the 1952 short story The Wilderness, dated May 2034 (equivalent to May 2003 in the earlier chronology).


Rocket Summer (January 1999/2030)

First published in Planet Stories, Spring 1947.

The stories of the book are arranged in chronological order, starting in January 1999, with the blasting off of the first rocket. Rocket Summer is a short vignette which describes Ohio's winter turning briefly into summer due to the extreme heat of the rocket's take-off.

Ylla (February 1999/2030)

First published as I'll Not Look for Wine in Maclean's, January 1, 1950.

The following chapter, Ylla, moves the story to Mars. Ylla, a Martian woman trapped in an unromantic marriage, dreams of the coming astronauts through telepathy. Her husband, though he pretends to deny the reality of the dreams, becomes bitterly jealous, sensing his wife's inchoate romantic feelings for one of the astronauts. He kills the two-man expedition, astronauts Nathaniel York and one simply called Bert, as soon as they arrive.

The Summer Night (August 1999/2030)

First published as The Spring Night in The Arkham Sampler, Winter 1948.

This short vignette tells of Martians throughout Mars who, like Ylla, begin subconsciously picking up stray thoughts from the humans aboard the Second Expedition's ship. As the ship approaches their planet, the Martians begin to adopt aspects of Human culture such as playing and singing American songs, without any idea where the inspirations are coming from.

The Earth Men (August 1999/2030)

First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1948.

This story tells of the "Second Expedition" to Mars. The astronauts arrive to find the Martians to be strangely unresponsive to their presence. The one exception to this is a group of Martians in a building who greet them with a parade. Several of the Martians in the building claim to be from Earth or from other planets of the solar system, and the captain slowly realizes that the Martian gift for telepathy allows others to view the hallucinations of the insane, and that they have been placed in an insane asylum. The Martians they have encountered all believed that their unusual appearance was a projected hallucination. Because the "hallucinations" are so detailed and the captain refuses to admit he is not from Earth, Mr. Xxx, a psychiatrist, declares him incurable and kills him. When the "imaginary" crew does not disappear as well, Mr. Xxx shoots and kills them. Finally, as the "imaginary" rocket remains in existence, Mr. Xxx concludes that he too must be crazy and shoots himself. The ship of the Second Expedition is sold as scrap at a junkyard.

The Taxpayer (March 2000/2031)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

A man insists that he has a right to be let onto the next rocket to Mars, because he is a taxpayer. He insists on being let on the ship so strongly because the Earth will be having a great atomic war soon, and no one wants to be around when it happens. He is not allowed on the ship and eventually gets taken away by the police.

The Third Expedition (April 2000/2031)

First published as Mars is Heaven in Planet Stories, Fall 1948.

The arrival and demise of the third group of Americans to land on Mars is described by this story. This time the Martians are prepared for the Earthlings. When the crew arrives, they see a typical town of the 1920s filled with the long lost loved ones of the astronauts. The Martians have used the memories of the astronauts to lure them into their old houses where they are killed in the middle of the night by the Martians. The next morning, sixteen coffins exit sixteen houses and are buried. These opening chapters are the strangest of the whole collection and conclude any detailed discussion of Martians and their abilities.

(The original short story was set in the 1960s and dealt with characters nostalgic for their childhoods in the midwestern United States in the 1920s. In the Chronicles version, which takes place forty years later but which still relies upon the 1920s nostalgia, the story contains a brief paragraph about medical treatments that slow the aging process, so that the characters can be traveling to Mars in the 2000s but still remember the 1920s.)

—And the Moon Be Still as Bright (June 2001/2032)

First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1948.

The next chapter opens with the men of the Fourth Expedition gathering firewood against the cold Martian evening. The scientists have found that all of the Martians have died of chickenpox (brought by one of the first three expeditions). The men, except for the archaeologist Spender and Captain Wilder, become more boisterous. Spender loses his temper when one of his crewmates starts dropping empty wine bottles into a clear blue canal. He knocks him into the canal. When questioned by his captain, Spender replies "We'll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves...We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things," referring to Earth. He leaves the rest of the landing party to explore Martian ruins.

  • Note that, in some editions of the novel, the two stories relating to Jeff Spender have been combined as one.*

The Settlers (August 2001/2032)

Spender returns to the rest of the expedition. He carries a Martian gun and shoots several of his crewmates, saying he is the last Martian. Captain Wilder approaches under a white flag and has a short discussion with Spender during which the archaeologist explains that if he manages to kill off the expedition it may delay human colonization of the planet for a few more years, possibly long enough that the expected nuclear war on Earth will protect Mars from human colonization completely. Although he opposes Spender's methods, Captain Wilder somewhat agrees with his attitude towards colonization and wishes for him a humane death. He returns to the others and joins them as they pursue Spender, and Wilder shoots Spender in the chest during the fight before he has the opportunity to be killed by anyone else. The captain later knocks out the teeth of Parkhill, another expedition member, when he disrespectfully damages some Martian glass structures while "target practicing." Many of the characters of the Fourth Expedition — Parkhill, Captain Wilder, and Hathaway — re-appear in later stories. This is also the first story that displays a central theme of The Martian Chronicles. It acts as a commentary on the Western frontier of the United States and its colonization, using the colonization of Mars as the analogy. Like Spender, Bradbury's message is that some types of colonization are right and others are wrong. Trying to recreate Earth is viewed as wrong, but an approach that respects the fallen civilization that you are replacing is right.

  • In the previously mentioned version, this short story describes the first settlers coming to Mars, the Lonely Ones, the ones that came to start over on the planet. It first appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

The Green Morning (December 2001/2032)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

The next several chapters describe the transformation of Mars into another Earth. Small towns similar to those on Earth begin to grow. In The Green Morning, one man, Benjamin Driscoll, makes it his mission to plant thousands of trees on the red plains so oxygen levels will increase. Due to some property of the Martian soil, the trees he plants grow into a mighty forest in a single night. Now since the settlers, including Driscoll, have already settled into the air of Mars, they are now forced to get used to Earth's air now, with more oxygen than Mars' air.

The Locusts (February 2002/2033)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

This vignette concerns the swift colonization of Mars. The title refers to the rockets and settlers which quickly spread across all of Mars.

Night Meeting (August 2002/2033)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

This story begins with a conversation between an old man and a young traveler, Tomas Gomez. The older man explains that he came to Mars because he appreciates the new and novel. Even everyday things have become amazing to him once again. He has returned full circle to his childhood. Later, Tomas encounters a Martian named Muhe Ca. Each can see the Mars he is accustomed to, but the other person is transparent to him and has the appearance of a phantom. The young man sees ruins where the Martian sees a thriving city, while the Martian sees an ocean where Tomas sees the new Earth settlement. Neither knows if he precedes the other in time, but Bradbury makes the point that any one civilization is ultimately fleeting.

This is the only full-length story in The Martian Chronicles which had not previously appeared in another publication.

The Fire Balloons (November 2002/2033)

First appeared as "…In This Sign" in Imagination, April 1951.

A missionary expedition of Episcopal priests from the United States anticipates sins unknown to them on Mars. Instead, they meet ethereal creatures glowing as blue flames in crystal spheres, who have left behind the material world, and thus have escaped sin.

This story appeared only in The Silver Locusts, the British edition of The Martian Chronicles, the 1974 edition from The Heritage Press, The "40th Anniversary Edition" from Doubleday Dell Publishing Group and in the 2001 Book-of-the-Month Club edition. It otherwise appeared in The Illustrated Man.

Interim (February 2003/2034)

First appeared in Weird Tales, July 1947.

This story describes the building of a Martian town by colonists and how much it was made to resemble an average Midwestern American town. The town was said to have appeared to have been swept up by a tornado on Earth, and brought to Mars.

The Musicians (April 2003/2034)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

The Earth colonists deliberately attempt to exterminate the Martian cities. Interestingly, as in Fahrenheit 451, the term "firemen" is used to describe those who set fires, as opposed to those who extinguish them. This alludes to later stories, with "Moral Climates" and the burning of literature — similar, once more, to Fahrenheit 451.

The Wilderness (May 2003/2034)

First appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1952.

Two women, Janice Smith and Leonora Holmes, prepare to depart on a rocket to Mars, to find husbands or lovers waiting for them there. Janice muses on the terrors of space, drinks in last memories of the Earth she will soon be leaving, and compares her situation to that of the pioneer women of the 19th century American frontier.

This story only appears in the 1974 edition of The Martian Chronicles by The Heritage Press and the 1997 edition of The Martian Chronicles. In its original form, the story was dated 2003, and this date is consistent with the other stories. As it appears in the 1997 edition, the date (together with all the other dates) has been shifted ahead 31 years, to May 2034.

Way in the Middle of the Air (June 2003/2034)

First appeared in Other Worlds, July 1950.

In an unnamed Southern town, a group of white men learn that all African Americans are planning to emigrate to Mars. Samuel Teece is an obviously racist white man who loudly decries their departure as he watches a great mass of humanity passing his shop porch. He tries to stop several black men from leaving. One man is harassed because of an old, unneeded debt — other black passers-by contribute money to relieve the debt. Teece then tries to keep a younger black man (named "Silly") from leaving, claiming that his work contract (signed with an "X" on a contract, as it is implied that Silly could not read) forbids his departure from Teece's business. After a verbal argument and a threat to lock him in a shed, some of Teece's white companions, including his own father, stand up to Teece and force him to let Silly depart with his family.

As he drives off, Silly yells to Teece, "what will you do nights now, Mr. Teece?" Teece realizes that Silly is referring to his nocturnal visits to black homes, destroying houses, and lynching black men. Enraged at Silly's comment, Teece and his father set off to get him. After giving chase in a car, the road becomes impassable, blocked by the discarded belongings of all the departing African Americans. Teece and his father walk back to the shop, after which the rockets for Mars lift off. Teece, saying that he will be "damned" if he looks at the rockets, sits back in the quiet afternoon, and wonders what he really "will do nights."

This episode depicts racial prejudice in America.

The Naming of Names (2004-05/2035-36)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles. Not to be confused with the short story The Naming of Names, first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949, later published as Dark They Were, and Golden-eyed.

This story is about later waves of immigrants to Mars, and how the geography of Mars is now largely named after the people from the first four expeditions (e.g. Spender Hill, Driscoll Forest) rather than after physical descriptions of the terrain.

Usher II (April 2005/2036)

First published as Carnival of Madness in Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1950.

Usher II tells of Bradbury’s and other writers’ fear of censorship. A literary expert named William Stendahl retreats to Mars and builds his image of the perfect haunted mansion, complete with mechanical creatures, creepy soundtracks and the application of many tons of poison to kill every living thing in the surrounding area. When the Moral Climate Monitors come to visit, he arranges to kill each in a manner reminiscent of a different horror masterpiece, culminating in the murder of Inspector Garrett in an exchange reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." When his persecutors are dead, the house sinks into the lake as in Poe’s short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher." Here, Bradbury’s message is simple: what goes around comes around, and ironic revenge is sweeter still.

Bradbury tantalizingly hints at past events on Earth, set in 1975 — 30 years prior to the events in Usher II. A government-sponsored 'Great Burning' of books is described, followed by the emergence of an underground society of citizens possessing small hoardings of books, the ownership of which had been declared illegal. Those found to possess books had them seized and burned by fire crews. Mars apparently emerged as a refuge from the fascist censorship laws of Earth, until the arrival of a government organization referred to only as "Moral Climates" and their enforcement divisions, the "Dismantlers" and "Burning Crew". This ideology of censorship is a clear reference to the situation on Earth described in Fahrenheit 451 and strongly suggests that the two novels occur in the same fictional universe.

The Old Ones (August 2005/2036)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

This story indicates how hospitable and welcoming Mars is now, in which the elderly migrate too.

The Martian (September 2005/2036)

First published in Super Science Stories, November 1949.

LaFarge and his wife Anna have forged a new life for themselves, but they still miss their dead son Tom. A night thunderstorm startles the elderly pair, who see a figure standing outside their home in the rain. Anna retires to bed afraid, while LaFarge believes that somehow, Tom is standing before him. He leaves his house unlocked.

That morning, "Tom" is busy helping Anna with chores. LaFarge sees that Anna is somehow unaware of Tom's death, and after speaking privately with him, LaFarge learns that "Tom" is a Martian with an apparent empathic shapeshifting ability: it appears as their dead son to them.

Later that day, Anna insists on a visit to the town. "Tom" is deathly afraid of being so close to so many people. LaFarge promises to keep him close, but at the town they become separated. While searching for "Tom", LaFarge hears that the Spaulding family in town has miraculously found their lost daughter Lavinia. Desperate to avoid a second devastating heartbreak to his wife, LaFarge stands outside Spaulding's home and finds "Tom" now masquerading as Lavinia. He is able to coax "Tom" to come back, and they run desperately back for their boat to leave town. However, everyone "Tom" passes sees a person of their own — a lost husband, a son, a criminal. The Martian, exhausted from his constant shape-changing, spasms and dies.

The Luggage Store (November 2005/2036)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

The story of Mars and its inhabitants is continued in a discussion between a priest and a luggage storeowner. Nuclear war is imminent on Earth, and the priest predicts that most of the colonists will return to help.

The Off Season (November 2005/2036)

First published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1948.

In another place, we again meet Parkhill. He has opened a hotdog stand, when a lone Martian walks in. He panics and kills him. Suddenly, numerous Martians appear in sand ships. Parkhill takes his wife to his very own sand ship and flees. The Martians catch up and give Parkhill a message: he now owns half of Mars. Unfortunately, the fleet of rockets filled with "hungry customers" won't be coming to patronize his restaurant, as the nuclear war has begun on Earth.

The Watchers (November 2005/2036)

First appeared in The Martian Chronicles.

The colonists witness a nuclear war on Earth, from Mars. They immediately return out of concern for their friends and families.

The Silent Towns (December 2005/2036)

First published in Charm, March 1949.

Everybody has left Mars to go to Earth, but Walter Gripp — a single placer miner who would like to find a wife — lives in the mountains and does not hear of the departure. At first excited by his find of an empty town, he enjoys himself with money, food, clothes, and movies. Later on, his behavior becomes less extravagant. One night, he hears a telephone ringing in someone's home, and suddenly realizes that he should answer it to find companionship. Missing the call, and several others, he sits down with a phone book of Mars and starts dialing at A.

After days of calling without answers, he starts calling hotels, and then (after guessing where he thinks a woman would most likely spend her time) calls the biggest beauty salon on Mars (in New Texas City) and a woman answers. They talk, but they are cut off. Tremendously excited and overcome with romantic dreams, he drives hundreds of miles to New Texas City, only to realize that she drove to find him on a back road. He drives back to his town, and meets Genevieve Selsor as he pulls in.

Their meeting was the opposite of what he had hoped for in his dreams — he finds her thoroughly unattractive (due to her weight and pallor), foolish and insipid. After a sullen day, she slyly proposes marriage to him at dinner, as they believe they are the last man and the last woman on Mars. Gripp decides to run, driving across Mars to another tiny town to spend his life alone. And over the years, when the phone rings somewhere in town, he doesn't answer.

The Long Years (April 2026/2057)

First published as Dwellers in Silence in Maclean's, September 15, 1948.

Hathaway (the doctor from the Fourth Expedition) is living retired on Mars with his family, even though everyone else has departed. We are shown that Hathaway is a mechanical tinkerer, who has wired an old town below their house to sound alive at night with noise and phone calls. One night, he sees a rocket in orbit, and sets fire to the old town to signal the rocket.

Captain Wilder (also from the earlier stories about the Fourth Expedition) finally returns to Mars after twenty years exploring the outer solar system. They land and have a reunion with Hathaway, who is troubled by his heart. Undeterred, Hathaway brings the crew to his house for breakfast. Wilder remarks that Hathaway's wife looks exactly as she did many years ago, as he knows her real age and knew her in the past. One of Wilder's crew pales when he sees Hathaway's children, knowing that the son should be the same age as he. Wilder sends the crewmember off to check some headstones that he saw when they landed. He returns, pale, and says that the adults now before them are buried.

Wilder offers Hathaway a rescue back to Earth, but Hathaway's heart fails and he dies, begging Wilder not to call his family because they "would not understand." Wilder then confirms that Hathaway's wife and adult children are androids.

As Wilder prepares to depart, one of the crew returns to the house with a pistol, but shortly after returns, sweating, having been unable to bring himself to kill the robotic family even knowing that they were not truly human. The rocket departs, and the android family continues on with its meaningless daily life.

There Will Come Soft Rains (August 4, 2026/2057)

First published in Collier's, May 6, 1950.

The story concerns a household in Allendale, California after the nuclear war has wiped out the population. Though the family is dead, the automated house which took care of the family still functions.

The reader learns a great deal about what the family was like from how the robots continue on in their functions. Breakfast is automatically made, clothes are laid out, voice reminders of daily activities are called out, but no one is there. Robotic mice vacuum the home and tidy up. As the day progresses, the rain quits, and the house prepares lunch and opens like a flower to the warm weather. Outside, a vivid image is given: the family's silhouettes which are permanently burned onto the side of the house (as was exemplified at Hiroshima) when they were vaporized by the nuclear explosion. The most disturbing is of two children playing catch. That night, a storm crashes a tree into the home, starting a fire that the house cannot combat, as the municipal water supply has dried up and failed.

The title of the story comes from a poem, randomly selected by the house to read at bedtime, also titled "There Will Come Soft Rains." The theme of the poem is that nature will survive after humanity is gone, reflecting the theme of the story; that even the vast cities of humanity will eventually be reclaimed by nature. In the original story in Collier's, the story took place 35 years into the future, on April 28, 1985.

This is one of the most famous short stories in science fiction.

The Million-Year Picnic (October 2026/2057)

First published in Planet Stories, Summer 1946.

A Family saved a rocket that the government would have used in the nuclear war and left Earth on a "fishing trip" to mars. Says Timmy’s father, "I was looking for Earthian logic, common sense, good government, peace, and responsibility... It's not there anymore." Then the family picks a city to live in and call home. They go in and Dad is shown burning tax documents and other government papers, and last, a map of the world. Later, he offers his sons a 'gift' in the form of their new world. He introduces them to Martians — their own reflections in a canal.

Additional "Martian Chronicles"

According to Sam Weller's authorized biography of Bradbury, four chapters were dropped from the manuscript before publication and remain unpublished: They All Had Grandfathers, The Disease, The Fathers, and The Wheel.

A new edition of The Martian Chronicles published by Hill House (2005) appends several additional Bradbury stories on Martian themes. They are:

Harry Bittering and his family travel to Mars in order to escape the war that is raging on Earth. Soon comes the news that nuclear weapons have been launched at New York and there will be no further space flights until the war is over. In the meantime, the Bittering family has been noticing strange changes throughout their home, and Harry decides he will build a rocket. He is ridiculed by his friends, and soon his passion for the rocket dies down. Slowly though, the humans have started changing too, and they all become Martians.

Radio adaptations

The Martian Chronicles was adapted for radio in the science fiction radio series Dimension X. This truncated version contained elements of the stories Rocket Summer, Ylla, –and the Moon be Still as Bright, The Settlers, The Locusts, The Shore, The Off Season, There Will Come Soft Rains, and The Million-Year Picnic.

—and the Moon be Still as Bright and There Will Come Soft Rains were also adapted for separate episodes in the same series. The short stories Mars Is Heaven (The Third Expedition) and Dwellers in Silence (The Long Years) also appeared as episodes of Dimension X. The latter is in a very different form from the one found in The Martian Chronicles.

A very abridged spoken word reading of "There Will Come Soft Rains" and "Usher II" was made in 1975 with Leonard Nimoy as narrator.

TV miniseries

In 1979 NBC commissioned a miniseries adaptation in partnership with the BBC, The Martian Chronicles. The adaptation was written by Richard Matheson and was directed by Michael Anderson. The series star was Rock Hudson as 'Wilder', with Darren McGavin as 'Parkhill', Bernadette Peters as 'Genevieve Selsor', Bernie Casey as 'Jeff Spender', Roddy McDowall as 'Father Stone', and Barry Morse as 'Hathaway', and Fritz Weaver. Bradbury found the miniseries "just boring.

The mini-series, first shown in 1980, is divided into three episodes with a total running time of just over four hours (nearly five hours on the DVD version). The first starts with two failed expeditions, where Martians kill the human spacemen. A third expedition follows where Spender goes insane and is killed by Colonel Wilder.

Wilder then becomes director of the colonization effort of Mars. By this time, all the Martians have been killed off by a strain of chickenpox; only Martian ghosts and the "Old Ones" non-corporeal Martians from millions of years ago, remain. The series ends after World War III occurs on Earth, and Mars is evacuated shortly before. Only a few scattered humans remain on Mars with the Martians appearing as either illusions, now long dead. Whether the Martians are ghosts or shadows of the past is not made clear.

In the final scene, Wilder, now alone with his family, meets a Martian ghost from thousands of years before. He then takes his family into the ruins of a Martian city, saying they will live there and learn the Martian way. He then points into a pool of water at the family's reflection and states, "Those are the Martians", indicating that the humans will be the new citizens of Mars.

The television series employs the concept of suspension of disbelief in that, apart from the obvious science fiction aspects of living Martians, the series was filmed in an Earth desert and has very noticeable blue sky with white clouds. Mars is also said to have a "thin atmosphere" which humans can breathe and there are canals of water and desert type vegetation.


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