As I've written before, Ray Bradbury is "one of the finest writers I have ever had the pleasure and unforgettable experience of reading." The Martian Chronicles is quintessential Bradbury with its short story structure, surrealistic commentaries (Usher II), and science fiction backdrop. Although I don't consider the book to be one of Bradbury's best, Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes take that honor, The Martian Chronicles does weave a better tale and smarter entertainment than most books belonging to the same genre.
The Martian Chronicles is a future history which borrows heavily from our past history. This lends itself perfectly to a whole host of commentaries regarding mankind's failings, most of which commentaries are subtle but deliberate. I especially enjoyed the story Usher II and its rather blunt estimation of what Bradbury calls "the sophisticates." That story, perhaps more than all the others, shows the author's unique balance of macabre humor and storytelling. Mars becomes at different times and in different stories the Wild West, the New Frontier, but also the scene of intimate domestic conflicts, such as parents struggling with the grief of losing a child. The focus in this book is most assuredly not the science but the fiction.
The short story structure of the book isn't for everyone. Some may want a more cohesive story with characters who inhabit most, if not every, page. Indeed that is one downfall of the book. Although Bradbury is truly a master of storytelling and is able to do more with ten pages than most authors can do with four hundred, it is difficult to establish the same kind of emotional connection with a character with only a handful of interactions with them. Some characters do make encore appearances to tie everything together, but it's not nearly enough to give the book anything that looks like a standard protagonist.
When I read a Bradbury book I compare it with other Bradbury books because I personally place him in a category and genre all by himself; he's just that good of an author. The Martian Chronicles isn't one of my favorite of his books, but when I compare it to other science fiction stories it stands quite tall. No doubt at some point in the future, after reading a handful of mediocre and less inspired works of fiction, I'll come back to Bradbury and remember yet again the pure magic of a story and its telling by a master of his craft.
Other Topics of Interest:
Ray Bradbury and Me
Reflections: A Princess of Mars
Memorable Moments: The Illustrated Man - 'Make a wish! Make a wish!'