Bradbury Daily: “The Million-Year Picnic”

This was a decent one. Though the environment still doesn’t feel terribly alien, there’s enough going on here to make it feel like a proper science fiction story.

I don’t know how many, if any, of these Mars stories are supposed to be taking place in a similar timeline, but this one, like one or two of the earlier ones, references a war on Earth. By this point we’ve reached the end of this war, and the dead civilizations of Mars are a parallel to the impending death of the Earth. The whole tale is a sort of post-Apocalyptic story, which it seems to be Bradbury’s motif of choice when it comes to space. Civilizations are always dead or dying.

Right from the start you can tell that this isn’t going to be a very happy or humorous story. It’s the story of a family leaving Earth and coming to the empty ruins of Mars to start over, away from the horrors of the war. There’s actually probably enough set up here to spin out a whole novel, even a series of novels if you were so inclined. I don’t doubt that Bradbury could make it interesting, though post-Apocalyptic civilization-rebuilding has never been a genre I’ve had much interest in. Even so, this story has the feeling of an origin story, and it kind of makes me want to see what happens, maybe check in on these people ten or twenty years down the road from where we leave them, on the shores of an abandoned Martian city.

The characters are pretty well written for the most part, though I think Mom and Timothy deserved some more development. But in the end they’re all archetypes, more than characters, which in this case actually works. Dad and Mom, the archetypal nuclear family parents. Timothy, the archetypal big brother, who understands a great deal more than the other two children but knows when to keep his silence. And then Michael and Robert, the archetypal younger brothers. Perfect examples of the perfect family placed in imperfect circumstances. In a story with a plot, they would be horrible characters. As players in a story that has more in common with creation myths and oral traditions, they couldn’t be better.

Well. I suppose Mom could have a larger role, but I suppose that at the time it might not have fit her archetype. She was supposed to be deferential to the father and more of an invisible force offering support and love but not coming to the front herself. Still, she felt like a nonentity most of the time, which is a stark contrast from how vividly she’s presented when she actually is dealt with. It’s a little disconcerting how quickly and completely she melts into the backdrop.

I think in the long run, though it may not be as enjoyable as some of the more humorous stories, this one is probably the strongest of all the Mars stories I’ve read so far.

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