The Martian Chronicles has all the virtues and flaws of everything I've ever read by Ray Bradbury. He writes beautiful prose and he's particularly good at spooky and haunting imagery. He's in a different category entirely from other "golden oldie" SF authors — his stuff is deliberately thoughtful and crafted, and tends to be much more human-focused. Even when he's writing "hard" SF, it feels more like a science fantasy, sometimes edging closer to pure fantasy or horror. And you can read all kinds of metaphors into his work, often metaphors completely different from the ones he intended, if his reaction to interpretations of Fahrenheit 451 is anything to go on.
The Martian Chronicles is, as the title suggests, more a themed collection of short stories than a novel, chronicling humanity's exploration and exploitation of Mars. It starts with the first ill-fated Mars expedition, when the first Earthman on Mars is greeted by a Martian roused to jealousy by his dissatisfied wife's clairvoyant dreams, and continues through the inevitable follow-up expeditions and colonization effort, in which the Martians all but disappear, becoming ghosts haunting their own planet, and humanity brings its troubles and all its baggage to Mars. The final stories, in particular, after a war destroys life back on the home planet, are eerie, with vivid descriptions of robot houses on Earth still cooking breakfast for families that were long ago atomized in a nuclear war, and a few lone survivors trekking through the ghost towns and dry canals of Mars. There were parts of this book that were truly marvelous and timeless.
That said - the flaws. Ray Bradbury, like so many of his generation, writes like a cranky old white man and he always has. He seems unable to conceive of a family, a society, or a civilization that doesn't resemble Middle America circa 1950, when The Martian Chronicles was published. Even the Martians, despite their elegiac voices and physical descriptions — brown skin, copper eyes, psychic powers, and evolution into non-corporeal bodies — are first introduced to us as a bored married couple following behavioral tropes that would not be out of place in a 1950s sitcom. The Martian household is imaginatively described, with its magnetic dust to clean and its fire chariot for transportation and the mask worn by a Martian man going out to hunt, with his rifle firing bee-like cartridges, but it's essentially a Flintstones or Jeffersons-like mapping of suburban America onto an alien landscape.
That said, Earthmen behaving exactly as they did back on Earth, and trying to remake Mars in the image of Smalltown, America, was no doubt part of the point. The Martian Chronicles shows Earthmen ruining everything, like they always do, Mars being no exception.
This is a classic that deserves a good read, and there is a timeless quality about it, but there's also a datedness in Bradbury's characterization, an ability to imagine and illustrate themes beautifully but not characters, all of whom are as stereotypical and whitebread as those you'd have found on TV at the time of the book's writing.
3.5 stars for superior prose and imagination and vision, but dated tropes and characters who are simply mouths to voice themes.
This is one of the original "lost generation ship" stories, a novella stitched together from two of Heinlein's earlier short stories. Considering it was originally written in the 40s, Orphans of the Sky still holds up reasonably well as pure science fiction, with little to betray its golden age origins other than the fact that all the tropes are so well worn by now.
The "crew" of the Ship has never known anything but the Ship, a massive multideck vessel which to them is literally the entire universe. They have no conception of movement, or there being anything "outside" the Ship. They have long since lost their understanding of the ship's technology and origins, even as they do the rote things necessary to keep its systems running. "Scientists" are now basically bards reciting holy writ passed down without understanding. And in the upper decks of the Ship dwell "muties," mutants who are descended (supposedly) from mutineers.
The story is about a young man on track to become a scientist who is captured by a band of muties led by a particularly intelligent two-headed leader named Jim-Bob. Jim-Bob, with a library of his own which he actually understands better than the so-called crew does, shows Hugh the stars and the true nature of the Ship. When Hugh goes back to tell his fellow crewmembers the truth, it goes over about as well as you'd expect. What follows is a more than one mutiny and betrayal, as Hugh tries to make everyone understand that the Ship is not only moving, but that it's about to arrive at its destination.
Okay, Heinlein's rocket science, as usual, holds up much better than his biology, and there aren't even any Heinleinian women here, just "wives" who are little more than chattel and don't have a single line of dialog. This was not one of his more progressive stories, but while there aren't a lot of politics in it either, it still packs a fair amount of flinty and contrarian human nature, treated honestly and realistically, even when the humans in question are two-headed mutants. People react stupidly, some adhere to their religious faith in the face of contrary evidence, others doubt, others scheme, some are opportunists and some are idealists. Heinlein's strength, besides his imagination, was always in presenting very human characters with human foibles rather than archetypes. Well, aside from the women.
This is clearly one of his early works, and while not one of the better ones, it's also far from the worst. It's a quick classic adventure that has left its fingerprints on every story of lost generation ships that followed.