Ray Bradbury's "June 2001: - And the Moon be Still as Bright" (novelette, science fiction): Some colonists are feeling guilty
This is the first story in "The Martian Chronicles" where there are rather explicit hints that the book is not really an ordinary science fantasy; it's alternate history - of European colonization of Americas. "Humans" in the book stand for "European colonists"; "Martians" stand for native Americans.
That could be the reason this book is so well known in some countries, & completely unknown elsewhere. I'm currently may be half way through the book, & while there are many interesting stories, I haven't yet seen anything truly outstanding - something that justifies tagging this book as classic. This book is probably considered a classic because of this alternate history view.
And I might have been slow to get hints; someone familiar with history of Americas would probably have caught this alternate history thread much earlier.
Title comes from a poem by Lord Byron:
"So we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright."
Story summary.In spite of loss of 3 earlier expeditions to Mars without any distress signal, a fourth one has landed - and a much bigger one than original, with 20 crew.
This will be the first successful landing - because Martians are now all dead! That's right - between third expedition in April 2000, & this fourth a year later in June 2001, all the Martians have died! In fact, they all seem to have died during "ten days at the outside" preceding this fourth expedition's arrival. And they've died a horrible death because of "Chicken pox" humans brought with them during earlier expeditions! A quick examination of local cities around the landing site indicates that 80% of these cities have been in ruins for thousands of years, but the remaining 20% have died recently - of human inflicted Chicken pox: "Four out of five have been empty for thousands of years. What happened to the original inhabitants I haven't the faintest idea. But the fifth city always contained the same thing. Bodies. Thousands of bodies." "Chances are a few of the Martians ... escaped to the mountains. But there aren't enough ... to be a native problem."
This discovery of recent human-inflicted wiping out of an old civilization that was once great has deeply affected Jeff Spender, a member of the crew & an archaeologist. Captain Wilder, leader of the expedition, is also feeling a sense of guilt - though his case is much less severe.
But most other crew members are jubilant after having found a whole world to exploit. After a succession of events, Jeff feels utterly disgusted with this group. Their defiling of the place is blasphemy to him. He quietly walks out, & won't be heard of for a week.
When he finally returns, he would already have killed a member of the crew, kill 5 more during the raid, & go away. Most of the remaining story is his hunt by crew where more crew members will die, & finally Jeff gets killed at the hands of Captain when he had opportunity to escape. It's during this hunt that where we slowly learn the way the entire experience has affected him.
Jeff's idea was to kill off entire expedition - except Captain who holds similar views - hoping earth would decide Mars wasn't worth going to. "If I'm lucky, I'll live to be sixty years old. Every expedition that lands on Mars will be met by me. There won't be more than one ship at a time coming up, one every year or so, & never more than twenty men in the crew. After I've made friends with them & explained that our rocket exploded one day - I intend to blow it up after I finish my job this week - I'll kill them off, every one of them. Mars will be untouched for the next half century. After a while, perhaps the Earth people will give up trying."
Before dying, Jeff would have extracted a promise from Captain that he would manage the communications with earth in ways that delay further human arrivals on Mars for as long as possible.
- "We won't ruin Mars... It's too big and & good."
"You think not? We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things. The only reason we didn't set up hot-dog stands in the midst of the Egyptian temple of Karnak is because it was out of the way & served no large commercial purpose."
- "We'll call the canal the Rockefeller Canal & the mountain King George Mountain & the sea the Dupont sea, & there'll be Roosevelt & Lincoln & Coolidge cities & it won't ever be right, when there are the proper names for these places."
- "How would you feel if you were a Martian & people came to your land & started tearing it up?"
- "When I was a kid my folks took me to visit Mexico City. I'll always remember the way my father acted - loud & big. And my mother didn't like the people because they were dark & didn't wash enough. And my sister wouldn't talk to most of them. I was the only one who really liked it. And I can see my mother & father coming to Mars & acting the same way here."
- "Do you remember what happened to Mexico when Cortez & his very fine good friends arrived from Spain? A whole civilization destroyed by greedy, righteous bigots."
- Martians "knew how to live with nature & get along with nature. They didn't try too hard to be all men & no animal. That's the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him & Huxley & Freud... And then we discovered that Darwin & our religions didn't mix. Or at least we didn't think they did... We tried to budge Darwin & Huxley & Freud. They wouldn't move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion.
We succeeded pretty well. We lost our faith & went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answers to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud & Darwin. We were & still are a lost people."
- "The animal does not question life. It lives. Its very reason for living is life; it enjoys & relishes life. You see - the statuary, the animal symbols, again & again."
"It looks pagan."
"On the contrary, those are God symbols, symbols of life.
- "I hate this feeling of thinking I'm doing right when I'm not really certain I am. Who are we, anyway? The majority? Is that the answer? The majority is always holy, is it not? ... how the devil did I get caught in this rotten majority? I don't feel comfortable... Can one man be right, while all the world thinks they are right?"
Fact sheet.First published: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1948.
Related: All stories of Ray Bradbury.