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The Martian Chronicles (Bradbury, 1945)

History is a warning from the past. In the far distant future of 1999, the Americans send four separate expeditions to Mars, looking for a habitat to call home. The first two crews were met with Martian gunfire. The third killed in their sleep.

But by the time the fourth expedition arrived to Mars, the local population had been decimated by chicken pox. Captain Wilder and his crew are met with dead cities and a cold silence. A member of the fourth expedition, Spender, bears witness to the planetary destruction the first three expeditions brought. He knows that much like in the American West, soon the ancient cities of Mars will be torn down to make way for hotdog stands and strip malls. The local culture of the planet will be commodified into mass media, just authentically alien enough to be interesting without being intimidating. Spender heard the warnings of the American West and knew what was coming. He begins murdering the crew of fourth expedition, one by one, in the hopes of delaying the inevitable fifth. Spender is killed by Captain Wilder, who too sees the coming commodification and tries to stop it. Wilder is rewarded for his efforts by being sent to the outer planets, where he’ll stay out of everyone’s way.

In his absence, Mars is made suitable for colonization. Roughnecks tame the red planet, paving way for tradesmen, who create items for salesmen, who make life comfortable for socialites. By 2005, those socialites brought their rules with them.

William Stendahl wanted no part of their bland conformist culture. The decency laws on Earth lead to the Great Fire of 1975. Any book deemed ‘impure,’ was thrown into the flames. Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, L. Frank Baum and anyone else who might offend ‘clean minded,’ citizens were deemed to unsafe for reading. William Stendahl maintained his library in secret until the Office of Moral Climates torched it in 1985.

Twenty years later, he constructed a replica of the House of Usher on Mars, complete with characters from classic Edgar Allen Poe stories. He’s visited again by the Office of Moral Climates. Mr. Garret, a clean minded man, tells him the burning crew would be there soon. William Stendahl paid attention to history. He listened to the warnings, and gives Mr. Garret a tour of the grounds, along with complementary drinks. Deep into the basement, William Stendahl chains Mr. Garret to the floor, and begins to build a brick wall. When asked why, William Stendahl says, “Because you burned Mr. Poe’s books without really reading them. You took other people’s advice that they needed burning. Otherwise, you’d have known what I was about to do...ignorance is fatal, Mr. Garret."

History is a warning from the past. Against the soft rains of ignorance, the Martian Chronicles shows a time when humanity fails to listen.

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