Warning: Some Spoilers Ahead
Wow. Just...wow. Why have I never read this before? Ray Bradbury has written an amazing, lyrical, spooky-as-hell set of pieces that all add up to something much more. Some are very brief, mere sketches of events. Others are full-length short stories.
Humans come to Mars, and find it inhabited. But first contact goes nothing like they think it will. Neither does second contact. Or third. Or, for that matter, fourth. But humans keep coming, and settle into the Martian landscape. Creepy, creepy things happen. Some of the stories seriously weirded me out. Not in a bad way.
But these are the kind of stories where you peer at the edges of your vision, waiting for whatever out there may be waiting for you. Atmospherically creepy, and sometimes with startling results. I never sat easily while reading The Martian Chronicles.
I did have minor quibbles with two of the events, but I can overlook them in the sheer awesomeness of the rest. Still, I don't quite believe that everyone would leave Mars to return to an Earth at war. While people may have had family there, people don't all rush back into a warzone. They would have watched with fear and terror, but more would have stayed. I know it needed to happen for the end of the book to work, but it did bother me. Also, are 12 people really enough for a viable genetic pool?
But because this book was not about the science, but about the beauty and mystery and mythical quality of the landscape and the Martians, I could put these quibbles aside, and come out of this book seeing it as a masterpiece, an object lesson of what science fiction can be, how it can transcend some of the traditional limitations of the genre, and reach beneath them to get at something wonderful and essential.