After Covid-19, Will Humanity Find Its Redemption on Mars?

Sometimes I feel an urge to press the eject button on Earth. 

No, it’s not Covid-19. 

What wears me out is the ignorance and lack of empathy on display by pockets of humanity during this crisis. It makes things that much harder for the rest of us. 

Unpopular opinion: I understand the virus. I even, dare I say, empathise with it. After all, Covid-19 bears us no ill will. The virus is incapable of casting blame or projecting prejudice or hatred onto one race or group. It’s merely doing what it’s been biologically programmed to do: to survive and pass on its messed-up RNA to the next generation. 

Kind of like us. 

From where I’m sitting in circuit breaker land (hereafter cb land), a one-way ticket to another planet or moon looks pretty attractive right now. Imagine all the fun I’d have in lunar gravity, just prancing about—at least until my oxygen tank runs out. And while Mars may be as brisk as Antarctica in a Speedo, at least the view of Earth from out there would be gorgeous. 

It’s like loving the idea of someone from a distance. I’ll never be disappointed. 

This feels like a safe distance.

The Problem With Seeking Catharsis On Other Planets Is That We Can’t Escape Ourselves

But neither I nor humanity can escape our problems simply by moving to Mars. Because chances are, we’d be taking all of our baggage with us. 

You know the saying, “everywhere you go, there you are.” 

Different planet, same old vaudeville act of greed, apathy, and destruction.

This, in a nutshell, is what Ray Bradbury’s short story collection The Martian Chronicles is about. I first discovered Ray Bradbury’s science fiction stories in middle school, after finishing the assigned reading of Fahrenheit 451. While it doesn’t say much for a teenager entering puberty, the stories shook me to the core.

To put this in modern parlance, Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is like Black Mirror meets Mindhunter. While it’s nominally a collection of short stories, the stories are tied together by recurring characters and a chronological timeline. It starts from humanity’s ill-fated First Expedition to Mars to the Red Planet’s eventual colonisation by humans, told through individual stories from both human and Martian perspectives. 

The end result are stories so gothic and cyberpunk, that some still stick in my memory decades later. One story, titled ‘The Earth Men’ tells of a simple misunderstanding between cultures, leading to disastrous outcomes. 

During humanity’s Second Expedition to Mars, the Earthling crew make contact with a group of Martian mental patients being treated by a Martian psychiatrist. The Martians are a race of beings that communicate telepathically. Not only can they read each other’s thoughts, they can also see the mental images conjured up by others. 

But like on Earth, some Martians develop mental illnesses. Some become prone to the hallucination of “strange aliens landing on Mars claiming to be from another planet.” It is therefore the job of the Martian psychiatrist to ‘cure’ these patients by demonstrating to them that their hallucinations aren’t real. The psychiatrist does this by shooting these ‘hallucinations’ in the head so that they ‘vanish.’

RIP Earth’s Second Expedition. 

An Honest Review of BBC Radio Four’s Adaptation Of The Martian Chronicles

Given my love for Ray Bradbury and the entire science fiction genre, you can imagine my disappointment when, as I settled down in bed last weekend and plugged myself in for a few hours of audio bliss on Storytel, I discovered that the version of The Martian Chronicles I’d selected for my review (which my editor had approved) was an abridged BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of The Martian Chronicles, voiced by award-winning actors like Sir Derek Jacobi from the Royal National Theatre and Doctor Who, Hayley Atwell from Marvel’s Agent Carter, and John Altman from the BBC soap opera EastEnders. 

My initial reaction to this news at 11 PM was not positive: Why? Why put lipstick on the Mona Lisa? Why substitute literary perfection for a Hollywood-style remake? 

But perhaps I rushed too quickly to judgment. 

So I listened on.

The books featured are available as audiobooks on Storytel, a subscription-based audiobook platform. 
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In this reimagining of Ray Bradbury’s legacy, BBC Radio 4 begins with a Hollywood explosion in the morning sky, which is witnessed by Wilder, a young boy in 1999. We find out that the debris raining down is from a failed moon shuttle launch, in a possible foreshadowing of humanity’s downfall. 

Flash forward to the year 2032, and listeners follow the crew of humanity’s Fourth Expedition to Mars, led by the now adult Captain Wilder, voiced by thespian Sir Derek Jacobi. None of the previous three missions met a good end, for reasons never fully explored in the abridged run time.

Let’s start with the bright side: the sound production quality is excellent and the voice actors are positively Shakespearian in their line delivery. There were also moments of genuine tension peppered throughout, though this is mired by its flaws. 

There are two main issues I have with this radio dramatisation. First, it consists exclusively of character dialogue. There’s no description, no context, and no narrative exposition into a character’s internal psyche. The sound design is left to do the heavy lifting. In my opinion, this made changes in certain character motivations feel jarring and unearned. Second, the story shifted between flash forwards and flash backwards, which sometimes caused me to lose track of where I was in the story.  

Finding Hope On Earth Through Dystopian Audiobooks

In the final evaluation, with a run time of only one hour and ten minutes, the British adaptation of The Martian Chronicles was an uneven attempt at storytelling, leaving this sci-fi geek wanting more.

But perhaps for the science fiction novice, who’s unsure whether they want to make a full 7-9 hour commitment to the genre, the BBC version can be a more accessible listen on an extended lunch hour in cb land. Consider it an audiobook teaser of sorts. Or an abridged Hollywood remake of a beloved science fiction classic that could appeal to more mainstream, blockbuster tastes. 

From those dubious shores, listeners may, as I have done since, move on to the blissfully reverberant audio forests of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, another masterful short story collection available in its full nine-hour and original glory on Storytel. It contains one story about children titled The Veldt, that will send chills down any parent’s spine.

These reservations aside, there’s something to be said about the cathartic power of escaping into a science fiction audiobook. It can be weirdly comforting to know that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. That as bad as our reality is right now, things could always get much worse. 

Dystopian science fiction worlds like The Martian Chronicles, Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World, can also serve as cautionary lessons for us to improve aspects of the reality we live in.

For that to happen, we all need to be willing to buy a ticket and take the rollercoaster ride of hope and disappointment that is life on Earth.

This story was sponsored by Storytel.

All the books featured are available as audiobooks on Storytel, a subscription-based platform.
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