I was in the local public library looking for some escapism and picked up something from a genre I almost never ever read – sci fi. The book is a classic, though – Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
It’s been exactly what I needed for a summer read. The setting is Mars, hot and burnt just like the weather here. Some of the characters are even from Illinois (only the wood is from Oregon, for some reason), looking for something familiar in their new landscape. Bradbury reminds me a lot of Borges in his love of books, nature, and puzzles. But the real candy came in the story “Usher II” in which an off-kilter rich man has the House of Usher built on Mars. When the architect – unfamiliar with Edgar Allan Poe – asks about the house, the rich man replies:
How could I expect you to know blessed Mr. Poe? He died a long while ago, before Lincoln. All of his books were burned in the Great Fire. That’s thirty years ago – 2006… Every man, they said, must face reality. All the beautiful literary lies and flights of fancy must be shot in mid-air! So they lined them up against a library wall one Sunday morning thirty years ago, in 2006; they lined them up, St. Nicholas and the Headless Horseman and Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin and Mother Goose and shot them down and burned the paper castles and the fairy frogs and old kings and the people who lived happily ever after (for of course it was a fact that nobody lived happily ever after!)…*
So far there is a lot of unhappiness on Mars, so I suppose it’s only fitting that Poe makes his appearance. The first “explorers” to Mars met with hostility and the first “settlers” had to deal with the Loneliness. I feel like I’m reading a strange version of Paint Your Wagon, and I’m enjoying it. All the characters are homesick in one way or another. Homesick for places, homesick for people, homesick for smells, tastes, sounds. Even homesick for the graves of loved ones they would visit back home. It’s some comfort to read about these other (more drastic!) experiences of homesickness, and to be able to say to myself, “Well, I don’t have it that bad. At least I’m not killing people.”
* Bradbury started writing Fahrenheit 451 the year Martian Chronicles was published. Though I haven’t found anything that connects 451 to this mention of the Great Burning, wouldn’t it be cool if we were living through the year of Fahrenheit 451 right now? Think of all those stories and books written about the future, using dates that we’ve already lived through…