It goes without saying that Ray Bradbury, author of the classic 1950 book The Martian Chronicles (click here to reserve a copy) , and who passed away last month, was a major influence on science fiction and fantasy.
At the age of eleven, The Martian Chronicles had been my first encounter with Bradbury. This episodic saga of man's landing and colonization of the planet Mars may be pure fantasy (the book's timeline occurs during 1999-2026, which already dates it somewhat), but the various situations and characterizations created by Bradbury will strike a chord with any reader. The power of the stories within will linger on long after you finish reading it. I know what I speak off.
Opening with the foreboding tale "Ylla", Bradbury details the relationship between a Martian couple and the potential threat an encounter with an astronaut from Earth may bring to it. More visits from Earth ships results in bizarre tragedy in "The Earth Men" and "The Third Expedition" , with the Martians futilely defending themselves from the aliens. By the time of "...And The Moon Be Still As Bright", the Earthmen have displaced and obliterated the entire Martian culture and population, and are now colonizing the planet.
The settlers from Earth bring along their own baggage of various resentments, bigotries, repressions, etc. Soon, Mars becomes a mirror image of Earth. (In one of the more dated segments, written before the 1965 Civil Rights Act, "Way in the Middle of the Air" has African Americans flee Earth's racist South, to lead their own lives.)
"The Off Season" depicts a crass former astronaut's ironic encounter with a surviving Martian while opening a hot dog stand! And "Usher II"- one of my all time favorite Bradbury tales- has a rich settler building his own "House of Usher" to celebrate his idol Edgar Allen Poe, despite oppostition from goverment censors who are out to destroy it.
By the time of the last story, "The Million Year Picnic", however, Bradbury's characters are able to find moral strength and ultimate redemption . Bradbury, through one of his characters in this tale, argued that "science ran too far ahead of us too quickly" and that we got "lost in a mechanical wilderness", but he's not being anti-science or reactionary (or anti-technology) as some critics claimed. Instead I believe Bradbury was warning us not to let our petty needs and selfishness get in the way of new technology and it's (and our) full potential.
That message, which forms the foundation of The Martian Chronicles, is still relevant today, sixty two years later. Ignore the scientific and social-historical anachronisms (spaceships referred to as "rockets", etc.) and enjoy the book for what it is; a hopeful and optimistic vision of the human race fulfilling it's true destiny.