An Otherworldly Metaphor

In an interview, Swamplandia! author Karen Russell discusses why she taught Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “The book feels subversive to me as an adult reader,” she explains:

[Stephanie Palumbo]: How does Bradbury use human activity on Mars as a metaphor?

KR: He’s writing against patriotism during the Cold War. Humans land on Mars and then destroy it. Not much time elapses between landfall on Mars and the annihilation of all Martians.

SP: There’s a haunting image in one story, where a little boy is playing with a white xylophone that turns out to be a Martian ribcage.

KR: The planet is basically wiped clean of its indigenous people. I was shocked by the descriptions of these ancient, bone-white cities on Mars, and it took me an embarrassing length of time to recollect that people can visit ruins anywhere on our planet, too. It’s a case where sci-fi holds up a funhouse mirror to our own history. In case we have amnesia about the horror of the frontier, here we see another frontier and xenophobia, paranoia, aggression, madness. But we see people be really good to each other too. Bradbury seemed to be such a humanist at the same time that he is calling us out on our most despicable qualities.