Last month, I received an ad from Big Finish productions saying that their production of The Martian Chronicles would be going out of print soon. This audio production starred Derek Jacobi and Hayley Atwell whose performances I love. What’s more, Big Finish offered the production at a very nice clearance price, so I picked it up. It turns out the production was a dramatization of three stories that comprise what might be called the “Captain Wilder arc” in Bradbury’s famous collection along with one other story. The stories dramatized were “—And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” “The Off Season,” “The Long Years,” and “The Million-Year Picnic.” The production proved quite good and it made me want to go back and re-read The Martian Chronicles in its entirety. My only regret is that I discovered the production so near the end of its production run, I can’t steer you to it to listen for yourselves.
The Martian Chronicles is a classic example of a “fix-up” novel. It’s a batch of short stories, related by their setting on Mars and follow a rough narrative arc. The narrative arc describes the exploration of Mars by humans, how the Martians resisted human colonization, how humans prevailed and began to settle and ultimately how conflict back on Earth caused most humans to abandon the red planet. Unlike most novels, we don’t really follow one set of characters through these stories. Each story is its own independent narrative. The exception is the Wilder arc. Captain Wilder and members of his crew turn up in three of the stories. In the audio production, Derek Jacobi plays the good captain and we effectively see an abridged version of the full collection’s narrative arc through his eyes.
I first read The Martian Chronicles in high school. Soon after reading the book, I was fortunate enough to meet Ray Bradbury and he signed my copy. It was fun to look back in the book and see the chapters attributed to the distant future of 1999 and the early 2000s. When Bradbury signed my book in 1983, those years were still just enough in the future to make me wonder if the adventures could happen. When I re-read the book, I decided to get an ebook copy, so I could keep my signed copy in the best possible shape. I was surprised to learn that Bradbury and his publisher had actually revised the book after I read it. Those first missions were moved from 1999 to 2030. A story was removed and two more were added.
At first, I was disappointed that the ebook I picked up wasn’t identical to the version of The Martian Chronicles I’d first read back in the 1980s. But after a little bit, I decided to give this new version a try. After all, I’ve been working on a cycle of revising some of my first novels, some of which started life as fix-ups, to make them better. I did enjoy my read and I learned that the dramatizations weren’t slavish adaptations of Bradbury’s words. They interpreted the material and breathed new life into it, letting me see Bradbury’s words in a new light, which is something good drama can and should accomplish.
I was also surprised and delighted to discover ways The Martian Chronicles influenced my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro. The first chapters of Pirates were written as short stories and the narrative arc I created to weave them together told the story of a colony’s rise and how human nature almost brought it crashing down again. I’ve never mastered Bradbury’s talent for beautiful prose, but I see how his love of his youth and family story helped me to take inspiration from my own youth and the stories of my own family when weaving a story set far from Earth. I learned to take the issues that concerned me and weave them into a new story. I was also fascinated to see that when Bradbury felt a part of his original vision was no longer fresh and new, he was willing to update it. If you’d like to learn more about The Pirates of Sufiro, the story I started dreaming up in the years after I met Ray Bradbury, visit http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html