Of Small Towns And Mars


I do believe the haze may finally be lifting. The urge to scribble here is starting to bubble to the surface again.
I met up with an old friend the past couple of days. Not in flesh and blood, rather one of his books called to me. The call was happily answered. He has written about what it is like to grow up in small town America, the textures and flavors of a time long past. Of dandelion wine, medicine for the melancholy, carnivals that embrace evil, and a man tattooed with the good and ill of human nature past, present, and perhaps, future.
But the particular book which called to me talked of another of man’s ventures, (actually, it also deals very much so with mans humanity … and inhumanities)one that we may finally be attempting to bring from fantasy to reality. The mission(s) of sending men to our nearest planetary neighbor, Mars.
The book is “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury. If you have had the pleasure of reading it sometime in the past, take the time to do so again. There are some parts which are dated and IMHO don’t hold up will over time. The chapter on the south and the mass exodus of black America to the red planet as well as the frankly stereo -typical take on southern men /life in the south is the most glaring of these. The rumors of world war and ultimate holocaust on Earth at the same time we reach for the stars, on the other hand, along with the direction we may be heading as a (western) civilization, may be much closer to real life events now and in the not too distant future.
To be sure, there is not enough breathable air to have us populate our neighbor in space in quite the fashion Bradbury describes, but our need to expand our reach and to “go beyond the next hill” to see what may exist there, has always been the way of western man. And this trek will be no different. As technology brings the cost of transporting men and materials within the realm of acceptability the explorers will blaze the trail and the engine of capitalism will develop the tools and transport to get the rest of us there. The age of sail allowed for the new world to be populated, the age of steam, opened up the vast expanses of the American west. Will there be a real “age of spaceflight” (or some other technological advance, yet unnamed) which ushers in our beginnings of an exodus beyond the confines of Earth?
Bradbury was not the first, or the only one to envision man slipping the surly bonds of Earth. Wells, Verne, Asimov, Clark, Heinlein, Burroughs, hell you could list at least ten times that many, and still the list would beg for completion. But he was one of the first to stoke the coals of my own sense of wonder, many years back. I think it was as much the pictures he painted about growing up in small town USA, and the bittersweet hint of childhoods end which flavored a number of his stories, as much as it was rockets, the men who flew them, and even the “Wonderful Ice Cream Suit”.
I hope Bradbury gets to see men land on Mars. And maybe, maybe, just this once could the great god of physics and science be wrong. Could we, in fact, find out our first robotic visitors to the red planet were wrong…find not only canals, great dead seas and cities….but that there *is* enough breathable air…perhaps if only to bring a twinkle to the eyes of the 12 year old boy who is well into his 80’s. The same gentleman who created a Mars out of different cloth than Burrough’s Barsoom, but every bit as alive.
Amazing what one thinks of on a blustery autumn eve.

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