The first time I went through the course catalog after enrolling in universtiy, the Science Fiction Literature class was the one that I was most looking forward to. Finally, I get to take it in my last semester as it is finally being offered. I am rethinking it now that I have my booklist in hand.
- The Martian Chronicles
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
- The Left Hand of Darkness
I have read every one of these books at least once. In theory it should be an easy class, but I hate Dune with the burning passion of a thousand suns. The original movie has bored me to sleep on more occasions than I can count in the first 20 minutes. Yes, we have to watch it for class. We also have to the new version with Jason Momoa, Oscar Issacs, Dave Bautista, and so many other big names. Hopefully they can make it more interesting for me. I really don’t know how I am going to survive the five weeks we are spending on this book without wanting to give myself paper cuts from each of the books 687 pages.
But I digress.
It has been a long time since I have read The Martian Chronicles. I forgot that my favourite short story was in the book. When I bought my last TV it came with a free Echo device. First my computer and phone could talk to each other and my watch, syncing everything I needed. Now I could control my TV, and anything else I wanted to, with my echo. I never liked the idea of a smart-home and my thoughts went directly to that favourite short story, There Will Come Soft Rains. Bradbury envisioned a version of a smart-home that continued to go on living after a nuclear bomb destroyed all life.
It’s scary to think about.
I just finished rereading The Wilderness. This is the short story that introduced me to Ray Bradbury in 5th grade. Probably the best thing in my reading book that year. It is one of the few required readings from electuary school I remember, the others being Aesop’s Fables and an Encyclopedia Brown book I owned long before the reading assignment.
What I remember about reading The Wilderness in school is essentially what made me hate reading class. Our teacher told us what the story was supposed to be about. She told us that settling Mars was a metaphor for the settling of the West back in the 1800’s. There was no room for discussion. This is what we were supposed to take away from it. End of story. I resented that and the teacher. I knew there was more there and we weren’t talking about it. Somewhere in the back of my mind I recall being told that the two main characters were sisters.
They aren’t. They are friends. In fact, Janice doesn’t have any fond memories of her sister. Her main memory is one of trauma, of her sister locking her screaming into a closet for hours. Lenora’s main purpose is to be Janice’s traveling companion, much in the same way that back in the 1800’s women had traveling companions because it was ‘proper’.
This is Janice’s story of facing her trauma in order to travel into space, leaving everything she knows behind for a man who has built them a house on Mars. Yes, colonization is backdrop of the story, but it’s not nearly as important as I was told it was back when I was 10.
The Martian Chronicles was written mostly in the 1950’s during the Space Race between the United States and the USSR (now Russia). A lot of the science fiction of the time was inspired by that entrance of the human race into the universe. Maybe Bradbury was making a commentary on how our exploration of the unknowns of space was much like the exploration of the unknown and untamed west. Regardless, it’s a story about people.
The Golden Age of Science Fiction started in the 1940’s and the Space Race continued it into the 1950’s. As a previous professor told us, “It was by white boys for white boys.” Robert Heinlein encouraged boys to go into space and science was the saviour of mankind. WWII brought about nuclear dystopia books Science fiction has always been about “what if”. It was an outlet to discuss the fears and issues of the time. Science fiction has always been about “what if”. In the 60’s and 70’s we would be introduced to alternate timelines and universes.
I bring this up because the Golden Age of Science Fiction was also an age of sexism and misogamy. As great of a storyteller as I have always found Ray Bradbury, the one short story where the two main characters were women, their actions were still driven by a man. Janice’s fiance was on Mars, one of the first colonists, and she was to follow. It is the last line that gets me, referring to women following men into the unknown, “…this was as it had always been and would forever continue to be.”
Bradbury, in some way lacked foresight. Ironic for a science fiction author. He didn’t expect our technological advances and social issues to change us as people, that we would always be the same sexist and misogynist people. It dawned on me that male science fiction writers rarely envisioned a world where men and women were equal, they maintained a world where men had some kind of control and women were secondary who did their bidding.