This post is part of a series on Ray Bradbury and his book, “The Martian Chronicles,” which will run from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
THE LONG YEARS
The short vignette ‘in between’ stories are over, and now we are down to the final three Martian Chronicles. All three of these last stories take place a long time after all the ones we’ve read so far. The entirety of the rest of the book takes place between January of 1999 and December of 2005, but here we find ourselves in 2026, and there we will remain until the end.
This first of these stories from 2026, “The Long Years,” is a stark contrast in mood from the light, humorous feel of “The Silent Towns.” It tells the story of Hathaway, one of the men from the Fourth expedition. The twist that comes perhaps midway through the story, is that his wife and three children, whom we see with him early in the story, are actually robots. His real wife and children died some 19 years previously, and he builds these to keep him company. There are a number of clues before the reveal, like the 4 crosses he visits and the fact that the wine they drink runs down their chins, and of course, robots that look just like people have already played an important role in the book, namely in “Usher II.”
In addition to the story about Hathaway and his robot family, we get a good deal of information/closure on other characters and stories we’ve encountered so far. We learn that Parkhill went home shortly after the war started 20 years earlier – so he didn’t end up having much use for his hot dog stand or the land deed for half of Mars. Walter Gripp is still living alone and smoking his cigars – no word on Genevieve Selsor. Captain Wilder from the Fourth expedition has been out exploring other planets, and he has just returned. And, of course we learn about the current situation on Mars and Earth.
Mars is described as a tomb planet. Other than Gripp, Wilder’s circumnavigation of Mars reveals no one else alive – human or Martian. On Earth, the war continues, but Hathaway and Wilder both expect that after 20 years, the devastation is likely extensive, if not complete. It is an ominous backdrop to the somber events of this story.
And, it is a ominous prelude to the next story, “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which is perhaps the most famous of all The Martian Chronicles, an extremely unusual, powerful and effective story.
“The Long Years” ends in a really poignant way (I think Bradbury really excelled at his endings). We have Hathaway’s robot family, alone now that Hathaway is dead (he dies of heart complications) and Bradbury leaves us with the striking visual of them going through their routines that Hathaway programmed and that they themselves don’t fully understand, and with a striking line about the dead sea, going on being dead. Not very cheery, but then again, Bradbury’s picture of a world that has destroyed itself, and the other planet it comes into contact with, is not terribly cheery.
Next time we’ll look at “There Will Come Soft Rains.”