Like all great works of literature, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles works on a number of levels. It is a portrait of the time in which it was written, it is a forward pointing lens through which we can examine our present and future, and a testament to the ages long gone. In other words, it is simultaneously timeless and a relic of its own time.
At its core, it is a collection of thematically connected short stories detailing the journey of humankind from Earth to the newly established colonies of Mars. Like The Grapes of Wrath, and other works dealing with migration and immigration, it is full of hardships, turmoil, small and great accomplishments, and a uniquely American spirit of rugged individualism, and the folly of our American Exceptionalism, and a sense of longing for something better and different in the face of hardship.
However, because of its SF roots, it can examine these themes without the presence of any boundaries whatsoever. Bradbury explores elements of the immigrant story, of racism, of nationalism, and of humanity’s undying spirit of adventure, with such devices as rocket ships, futuristic weapons, an alien POV of religion, ghosts, shape changers, and all manner of the phantastique. By invoking these elements of mythology, fantasy and science fiction, The Martian Chronicles becomes an even more complete and important work of literature in the way that it connects with its readers on the levels of other “important” works while also being an exciting and entertaining pulp adventure.
No matter how many times I read this volume, its power is never even slightly diminished. The bleakness, mystery, imagination, and prose will remain forever a landmark in the world of not just science fiction, but in the greater literary world outside the realms of genre.