I finally sat down and read this novel -- a collection of loosely-linked short stories, really -- and caught myself comparing it to the sophisticated sci-fi of recent years. If I had kept up that mindset, I'm sure I would have rated it lower. But...
Think back (those of you who can remember) to the days when the giants of sci-fi roamed the Earth: Bradbury. Asimov. Anderson. Clarke. Farmer. There was something fundamental, something elemental, about their writing, born of the dime novel and magazine column-inch, that you don't have today. That gritty, anti-Bronte sense where character development didn't matter as much because the writer's energy was going into creating a universe that heretofore didn't exist.
Bradbury's Martian Chronicles is all this and more. In some ways, it is a Western, where the Martians are the (dare I say it?) Indians and clutzy Earth Men are the Europeans come to take what was never theirs. Like all great novels, it is a mirror, a dark one at that.
All Science Fiction poses a question: if the laws of the Universe behaved thus-and-so, what would the outcome be? The Martians are a sophisticated and cultured race of telepaths and time-travelers, and are about to meet up with homicidal and self-absorbed Man. What will the outcome be? Bradbury doesn't flinch from painting an all-too-likely ending.
Four stars, however, because Martian Chronicles, while a classic, has not stood the test of time well. It does owe almost too much to its noble and humble roots, and reads far more like a set of magazine articles than a homogeneous novel. Still, it is well worth reading, and gives a good glimpse into the glory that science fiction used to be.