The Martian Chronicles: Summary:1999 August
August 1999 (“The Summer Night,” “The Earth Men”)
Summary: At a Martian concert, the singer begins singing a strange new song in an unknown language (“She walks in beauty, like the night…”). Even the singer is shocked. Martian children begin singing strange nursery rhymes (“Old Mother Hubbard”). Women across the planet begin waking up with fevered nightmares, predicting that some terrible event is imminent.
Another rocket from Earth arrives: the Second Expedition, commanded by Captain Jonathan Williams. He and his three fellow crewmen begin knocking on Martian doors, announcing their arrival. To their surprise, however, they are greeted with reactions ranging from apathy to irritation. No Martian seems impressed to be making contact with these visitors from their neighboring world. Finally, the humans are taken to a large hall full of Martians who, incredibly, also claim to hail from Earth. The humans realized they have been institutionalized in an asylum. They seek to convince a Mr. Xxx of their story’s truth by taking him to see their rocket ship. Mr. Xxx, however, remains convinced that not only the crew but also their rocket are a completely realized, externalized “sensual hallucination and hypnotic suggestion” produced by Captain Williams. To put the “insane” Williams out of his “misery,” Mr. Xxx shoots him dead. Mr. Xxx is surprised to find that the remaining crewmen and the rocket persist after Williams dies. Mr. Xxx shoots each of the three remaining crew in turn. When their corpses and the rocket still persist, Mr. Xxx can only conclude that he, too, has been infected by the insanity. He turns his gun on himself. When other Martians eventually discover the rocket from Earth, they, unaware of its true origin, reduce it to scrap metal. Life on Mars goes on as before.
Analysis: “Ylla” offered us a microcosmic view of Martian society; “The Summer Night” offers us a larger view (appropriately enough, since it is the second interstitial, “macroscopic” linking passage in the book). Bradbury’s descriptions of Mars rely to some extent on older ideas of the fourth planet from science fiction’s pulp magazine origins—for instance, the notion of canals (albeit flowing with “green wine,” not water; p. 14). Bradbury’s Mars, however, is not meant to be an alien world constructed with any large degree of artistic verisimilitude, much less a scientifically accurate representation of the Red Planet. Bradbury’s Mars is “placid and temperate” (p. 14) before the arrival of humans—but that placidity is (as the Ks’ marriage in “Ylla” hinted) truly stagnation. The Martians have gathered for an “entertainment” (to use the Ks’ term), but when the singer sings a new song, the Martians are far from entertained. The strange words and music (a poem by Lord Byron, just as, in “Ylla,” York wooed Ylla with old Earth love lyrics—in that instance, by Ben Jonson) upset the Martians—readers may well wonder if only for their novelty or if not also for their subject of romantic, sensual love. Nor are only the Martian adults affected: Martian children begin chanting Mother Goose doggerel familiar to Earth youngsters for centuries, but previously unknown on heretofore “placid” Mars. “The Summer Night” echoes “Rocket Summer”: just as the advent of human space exploration marked an epochal shift for Earth, so does it mark a dramatic division in the history of Mars; in fact, one might almost argue that the “Ohio winter” of “Rocket Summer” has been transferred to Mars in “The Summer Night,” for we witness another sharp, seasonal change, leapfrogging the season of autumn as Earth leapt over the season of spring: “And all around the nervous towns of Mars a similar thing had happened. A coldness had come, like white snow falling on the air” (p. 15).
The ominous tone of “The Summer Night” leaves readers unprepared for the initially light, comical tone of “The Earth Men.” We cannot help but be amused as we see everyday Martians reacting to the momentous presence of humans on their world as though this first contact were nothing more than an unwelcome interruption in their daily routines: “I haven’t time… I’ve lots of cooking today and there’s cleaning and sewing and all” (p. 17). (Notably, Mr. Aaa objects to the visitors’ presence because, like Mr. K in “Ylla,” he “has much reading to do,” p. 19). At first, readers may think that this reaction confirms our impression from “Ylla,” that Martian society is too mired in work, especially when Mr. Aaa objects that he is not equipped to handle visitors from Earth because they are “not in [his] line of work” (p. 20). (Also, the fact that Martians go out to visit each other wearing masks seems to be a comment upon Martian society: that they, like we, present one face in public while hiding their true, private faces.) Ultimately, of course, we learn that Mr. Aaa is referring to the fact that many Martians have been experiencing the psychotic belief, accompanied by externalized hallucinations, that they, too, are from Earth and other planets; the “line of work” to which Mr. Aaa is referring is psychiatry. He believes the humans need psychiatric care! Once Captain Williams and his crew unwittingly sign themselves into an institution, however, the story takes a sharp, serious turn, ending with the murders of the astronauts and the suicide of Mr. Xxx. “The Earth Men” emerges, then, as a cautionary tale about the dangers of adhering too rigidly to fixed belief and presuppositions. Mr. Xxx and the non-psychotic Martians have become so accustomed to the telepathic “infection” plaguing their society they have become unable to consider new evidence or new realities (whereas Mr. K, in “Ylla,” was only unwilling to do so). Even as Xxx pulls the trigger on himself, he does so, not out of any attempted penance for murder, but because he is unable to face the truth of the situation: he still believes he, also, is “insane… contaminated… only one cure” (p. 30).