There are some books that defy classification -- they slip from the clenched fists of genre's restrictive grasps, and seem almost above critique. Their sums are greater and longer lasting, more impactful than their parts. They represent some of the best of what the human mind can create, and remain strangely timeless despite the fact that science or culture may surpass their literal truths. The Martian Chronicles is one such book. Famously referred to by author Ray Bradbury as "a book of stories pretending to be a novel", the disparate parts somehow come together to form something more than a novel. Like Tolkien's war of the ring, this story of the settlement of Mars and its aftermath transcends genre-fiction and somehow becomes more like fictional history -- or, in this case, a cautionary fable. Throughout these stories, the reader encounters themes of xenophobia, imperialism, censorship, war, and racism (though the story dealing with this most directly, "Way in the Middle of the Air", where, back on Earth, all black people decide to emigrate to Mars, is stupidly cut from many of the later editions). Although Bradbury tends to stick to these broad strokes throughout, rather than focusing on individual characters, there are also stories that chronicle the more personal struggles of violence, fear, loneliness, and isolation. Yet somehow it never manages to get mired down in its own bleak moralizing. Bradbury knows when to apply a light touch, and it never feels as if he is lecturing or proselytizing. In fact, sometimes the tone of the book, while sometimes drifting into Bradbury's trademark syrupy and sentimental nostalgia, sometimes swings unexpectedly into the other extreme, describing deaths, plague, genocide, and near-extinction with an irreverent, almost flippant tone. It's a harsh dichotomy that he employs to great effect throughout these stories. Although Bradbury had one time said, of Kurt Vonnegut, "He couldn't see the world the way I see it. I suppose I'm too much Pollyanna, he was too much Cassandra," and I generally agree with this assessment (Vonnegut could never have written Dandelion Wine, Bradbury could never have written Breakfast of Champions) I think they were occasionally more alike than he realized. As I said earlier, the sum total of the effect of reading these stories is greater than any individual tale might work as a standalone, but there are definitely some highlights. "The Third Expedition", where Martians use their psychic abilities to greet the arriving Earthlings by projecting images of the hometowns of their childhoods and appearing as their long-lost loved ones in order to lure them into a false sense of complacency before killing them would not be out of place in any horror collection."Usher II" is a tongue-in-cheek cautionary tale about the dangers of censorship and book burning, where reading the stories of Edgar Allan Poe would literally have saved the lives of several murder victims. "The Silent Towns" is a dry tale of gallows humor where the last man on Mars seeks out the last woman, and then runs from her when he realizes she is unattractive. The real emotional punch, though, comes in the last three stories, where we are shown the grim reality of the fact that we have carelessly destroyed not one, but two planets. In true Bradbury fashion, however -- and perhaps this is his most stark difference when contrasted with Vonnegut -- he leaves us with one last glimmer of hope, in one of the most beautiful ending scenes ever written in a sci-fi novel. Or any novel. The Martian Chronicles is a mirror -- or rather, a twisted series of funhouse mirrors, showing us the uncomfortable and grotesque images of the worst parts of ourselves stretched and distorted and put under a harsh, glaring light. Mars is the backdrop, but is largely inconsequential -- its a stage for Bradbury to put our species on display. Even after the characters and events in these stories start to fade out of your mind, there is something about this work as whole that stays with you for years after reading it. This will be one of those books that you return to periodically at different stages in your life. Reading this now in my 20's was a very different experience from reading it as a 12 year old, and I'm sure reading it again in my 30's will bring an even deeper understanding. In its Hirsohima-inspired penultimate story, "There Will Come Soft Rains," Bradbury uses the 1920 poem by Sara Teasdale against a chilling backdrop of a silent post-fallout Earth, and these words sum up Bradbury's message here far better than I ever could. Rating: A There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground, And swallows circling with their shimmering sound; And frogs in the pools, singing at night, And wild plum trees in tremulous white, Robins will wear their feathery fire, Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire; And not one will know of the war, not one Will care at last when it is done. Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, If mankind perished utterly; And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn, Would scarcely know that we were gone.