“A Summer with Ray Bradbury” – The Million-Year Picnic

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.


In “The Long Years” we saw that in 2026 Mars was largely empty, and in “There Will Come Soft Rains” we saw that in 2026 Earth was largely destroyed, so with “The Million-Year Picnic” we get Bradbury’s last word on the future of the human race in this speculative history of Earth’s contact with Mars.

It’s a simple story, in many ways. The Thomas family – a family with 3 little boys & a girl on the way – has come to Mars on one of the last rockets from Earth. They have come, hoping to rendezvous with the Edwards family – a family with 4 little girls. It’s clearly a sort of new Adam & Eve story, where they hope to start over and begin to rebuild the human race.

Symbolic of that rebuilding, Mr. Thomas burns various government documents as a way of suggesting that the systems we had built on Earth had failed and that more than repopulation would be required if humanity was going to rebound from this catastrophe. He was a governor on Earth, and as he burns the documents he speaks the funeral oration for the failure of our way of life. There aren’t any surprises here, as Bradbury’s theme has already been made clear, but here is perhaps the key section:

Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets; emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines. Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth. That’s what the silent radio means.

The final act is for Thomas to take his wife and boys down to the canal they use to reach the Martian city where they are settling, and to introduce them to the “Martians.” As his family lean over the edge and stare down into the water, they see their own reflections, and Bradbury’s final twist is revealed. The last humans from Earth are the last Martians, and perhaps from that world and civilization which Spender so admired earlier in the book, we’ll learn the things we need to learn to build a better society.

And that is Bradbury’s final word in The Martian Chronicles. My final word on The Martian Chronicles will wait until next weekend though, when I wrap up this summer series with my last post on the book.