In "The Million Year Picnic," a family of five lands a rocket ship to embark on a "fishing trip" on Mars. Mom, Dad, and the three sons pile into the motorboat to travel down a Martian canal to the fishing trip. Of the three boys, only one was paying attention to his father's actions: Timothy. The other boys are excited to be on the Martian planet, and they think nothing of the fact that they have traveled unbelievably far, with many provisions, simply for a fishing trip. They are young and are easily distracted by the new things around them.
As they travel down the canal, Timothy notices that his dad is skittish. He is constantly looking to the sky and overreacting to any noise that he hears. His reaction is particularly severe when they hear a loud explosion in the distance. The dad takes over steering the boat and navigates them safely into a cove off of the canal, making sure that their ripples leave their route untraceable. The urgency is palpable. After they have safely landed in that corner, the dad realizes that the sound that had scared him was merely the sound of their own rocket blowing up.
When the father reveals that the sound was their rocket, Timothy realizes that the idea of the fishing trip was simply a ruse. Things begin to slowly make more sense to him - the fact that the fishing trip had been planned for a long time, the extent of things that they brought with them on the rocket ship, and the ambiguous way that his parents had been acting since they left. Even though he realizes that he and his family are staying on Mars for much longer than they were told, he continues to act as if it is only a fishing trip for the benefit of his younger brothers.
While Timothy is doing this, he pays increasingly close attention to his father to learn more about the situation. Timothy watched his father put his ear to their radio, and no noise came back in return. "It's over at last," Dad said to Mom, and then Dad began to address his sons. The "what" that was over was the chance that they had to return home. There was no radio contact that picked up the explosion of their rocket ship, and so they were safe from anyone leaving Earth to try to find them on Mars.
The father explained to the children that they had come to Mars and would never go back to Earth. There would be no way - no more rockets - to return to Minneapolis, where they were from. They had not come all this way for a fishing trip; rather, they had come to Mars to start a new life that was free from the hypocrisy and destructiveness of Earth and its people. It is revealed that the father was formerly a politician, and he tried to be upstanding and helpful to his constituents but he was only punished for it once he held office. He wanted to start over and raise his children in a worthwhile society.
They boys were upset, and it was difficult to process. Dad promised to explain his reasoning to them everyday until they better understood why he had felt it was necessary to leave Earth. He asked them to pick a city as they boated down the canal, and that city would be where they would start their new life. Neighbors from Earth planned to come to Mars as well, and with their young daughters, the sons would start a new life. Together, they would start over and try to leave behind the negative aspects of living on Earth, creating a positive place to begin a society.
When they finally settled on a city that pleased everyone in the family, the young boys pleaded to see Martians. They had been obsessed with seeing them ever since they arrived. The father promised his boys that he would take them to see the Martians, and he led them to the riverbanks. He instructed the boys to lean over the water and look down - that's where the Martians were. The boys saw nothing but their own reflections, and their father said, "There they are," pointing straight down to the water. The young family from Minneapolis was now a family of Martians.
This is the final story in Ray Bradbury's short story collection, The Martian Chronicles. Throughout the collection, people have moved away from Earth to begin anew on Mars. Some attempts have been more successful than others, and at the end of this story we do not know how the Minnesota family will bode on Mars. The father has lofty hopes for starting a new utopia with his boys and his neighbors, but there is a high change of failure reflected in the landscape. As they look around for a city to live in, one cannot help but think of all of the failed attempts that are left via these Martian ruins.
Transferring this obsession with rebirth and renewed chances to Earth, the reader must think about how many times humans have tried to start over and create new, idealistic societies. How did they fare? Is it possible to begin a new society that is completely isolated from the rest of the world? Is it possible to create such a society on Earth, where the globe is connected through advanced forms of transportation and the Internet? Based off of American historical attempts at creating utopias, do you think that this family's attempt will be successful?
A key to a successful community is buy-in and the decision to actually join the community, so it is interesting that these children, who will be the basis of the society, had no input into the decision to move to Mars. While Timothy had suspicions that it was more than a fishing trip, he was still not fully aware of what happened. As much as their father claims that he is making the right decision for his family, is it fair to force his children into a life that they will never be able to leave? Also, does that bode well for the success of their new community?
As the family moves through the many deserted and empty cities while they boat through the canal, it forces the reader to think about how many times this thought process has occurred before. What structural forces have rendered Earth unlivable this many times? Is it the ethical decision to leave Earth and abandon it rather than try to improve it and make it a better place for future generations to live? In this story and in others, little insight is given into the efforts that the characters have made to make Earth more livable before moving to Mars. Additionally, the story poses the question: How many times has man thought that humanity would continue indefinitely, only to destroy the environment around it?
This final story of the Martian Chronicles shows that continuously colonizing and settling the next frontier is not a sustainable development strategy. Other themes in this story, such as the destructiveness of human nature, space travel, and technological innovation, continue to appear in other Bradbury stories, allowing the stories to both stand on their own and communicate with one another within the collection.