He died on June 5, 2012 at the age of 91. American Ray Bradbury, the signatory of The Martian Chronicles or Fahrenheit 451, is a science fiction legend constantly presented as one of the authors of his “golden age” (along with, for example, Isaac Asimov or Robert A. Heinlein). The screenwriter of John Huston’s film Moby Dick, based on the book by Herman Melville, however, did not trust this label, preferring “fantastic” …
To hell with labels! Bradbury, simply an outstanding writer, is touching in his work, revealing the pathos of human existence. Melancholy clings to our backs like a band-aid on Captain Haddock’s finger. However, she is not unwavering, as the title of her book The Cure for Melancholy, a collection of 22 short stories published in the late 1950s and available in Folio SF, suggests.
Why fly to Mars? One of Bradbury’s heroes formulates the answer…
As in The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury returns for several texts (a small part of the book) about the colonization of the Red Planet. Ten years after his death, this view has now become, if not tangible, then at least ubiquitous in the media. Man’s journey to Mars, i.e. his exploration, has been a project in the air for decades, but it got a boost thanks to NASA’s Artemis program. This consists of returning astronauts to the Moon; it should materialize in the coming years.
However, this return to the Moon is a step towards the Red Planet. But exploration is not colonization! This scenario assumes that we remain on Mars.
What is the use of putting humanity before such a challenge? One of the answers is lyrically articulated by one of the colonists in The Cure for Melancholy. In the passage reproduced below, he speaks of his arrival on Mars in terms that take on special meaning to a 2020s reader:
“Why did we come here? I then asked myself. I’ll tell you the reason. The same is true for the annual salmon migration. The salmon does not know why it goes to a certain place at such a time of its existence, but it goes there. It travels up unknown rivers, crosses waterfalls, to finally reach the place where it breeds and then dies. And the cycle starts again. Call it ancestral memory, instinct. The name doesn’t matter. Only one fact is undoubted: this migration exists. And that’s why we came here. (…) Let me finish… It wasn’t about the money. Nope! It was not to see the country. No more ! All this is nonsense that men say, false arguments that they give themselves. Men say: “You must become rich, you must become famous” or: “Have fun, have fun.” But deep down, something awakens, for example, in a salmon or a whale, and even, of course, in the smallest microbes known to us. This little thing that beats muffledly in the heart of every living being, you know what she is talking about. Well, she said, “Go, spread out, move on, don’t let yourself be destroyed.” Explore as many worlds as possible, build as many cities as necessary so that humanity does not disappear. Do you understand, Carrie? This concerns not only us. It’s this whole damned human species to which we belong and whose fate depends on how we live. If I were not afraid of this terrible responsibility, I would burst out laughing.
Ten years after Bradbury’s death, can you still hear the urge to transcend borders? Or is it a painful goal that will distract us from protecting our own planet? Note that the poetic author poses the question in philosophical rather than scientific terms. On Mars Bradbury you can breathe freely, nose and hair in the wind … Ray Bradbury’s fiction is definitely less than the first term than the second term.