By December of 2005, Mars has been almost completely evacuated. One man, named Walter Gripp, who lives in the mountains, is left behind. For a few days, he entertains himself in an empty town, but he is lonely. One night, he hears a phone call, and although the cannot answer it in time, he decides to go through the phone book trying to see if anyone will answer. He finally decides that he should call the biggest beauty parlor in New Texas City. A Genevieve Selsor answers the phone, but their conversation is cut off by a bad line. He races in a car to see her, but she is not there, so he races back and finally finds her. But she is fat and sticky with chocolate, and she makes him watch annoying movies, and when she shows him a wedding dress that she has bought, he is horrified and leaves immediately, believing that she is the only other person on Mars. He goes to a small town, where he never answers the phone.
It is April, 2026. Hathaway is living on Mars with his wife and three children. They live in a hut. After dinner, he goes out to four grave stones, and he whispers that he is sorry, but he was so lonely. He looks up into the sky, as he does every night, and this time he sees a rocket approaching in the distance. He is elated. He lights a nearby city on fire to make sure the rocket does not miss him. When the rocket lands, he finds that it is his old Captain Wilder, returned from exploring Jupiter and Pluto. Wilder is looking for survivors to take back to Earth. He found Gripp, who didn't want to come. Hathaway's family has prepared a grand breakfast for Wilder and his crew. Wilder, however, is struck by the youthfulness of Hathaway's family and sends Williamson to investigate something. Williamson reports that he found the four graves of Hathaway's family. Suddenly, Hathaway has a heart attack and dies. Wilder, realizing that the other four are robots made to replace a family that died of a virus, is ready to leave, once he says goodbye to the robots.
The story of Walter Gripp presents Bradbury with an opportunity to describe the desolation and ruin of human ruins. Now Mars has Martian ghost towns as well as Earthling ghost towns. It is also a chance for Bradbury to present a tale of basic human nature persisting under extraordinary circumstances, a technique he often returns to. Here, Walter Gripp is alone on a planet, and, as soon as he makes himself comfortable, he begins to want desperately a woman to be his companion. He spends a great deal of time searching for one, but when he meets Genevieve, he realizes that there is more to a potential companion than gender. Matters of physical attraction and personality always matter, Bradbury says, even if someone is the last person on the planet.
"The Long Years" is an odd story. It brings together characters from the fourth expedition; they recall Spender and reflect that he has gotten his wish, that humans have left Mars. Also, it should be clear that Wilder is impressed--not disgusted--with Hathaway's handiwork. He admires Hathaway for recovering from the loss of his family and then building such fantastic robots. Hathaway is a man left to himself who starts a new human race, albeit a robotic one. Here is one story in The Martian Chronicles in which a man tries to ignore the bleak Martian landscape by surrounding himself with what is familiar, and Bradbury seems to approve. There are many stories in the novel of loved ones looking for each other; Hathaway's is perhaps the most successful of them.
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