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.
Here is the complete list of stories in this audiobook:
Herbert West, Reanimator
The Lurking Fear
The Rats in the Walls
The Whisperer in the Darkness
In the Vault
The Call of Cthulhu
The Color Out of Space
The Horror at Red Hook
The Music of Eric Zahn
The Shadow Out of Time
The Dunwich Horror
The Haunter of the Dark
The Shunned House
The Thing on the Doorstep
Under the Pyramids
The five star rating for this book is not because I think every story (or even most of them) were 5 stars, or because Lovecraft was a great writer (though I do think he was a better writer than he's often given credit for). It's because these stories are essential reading. Like him or hate him, Lovecraft casts a long, dark shadow over all of American fantasy and horror, and in fact, the stories are mostly pretty good, in a very dated way. Yes, Lovecraft wrote purple. Yes, his characterization is usually pretty thin. And yes, he was a horrible racist and it shows in his writing. But no one who touched this genre after him has been untouched by it, and if you have ever been awed or frightened or scared by a tale of eldritch horrors, unfathomable beings from beyond time and space, bubbling squamous obscenities so horrible that the very sight of them will erode your sanity, or vast, alien, cosmic gods inimical to humans and regarding us the way we regard germs... well, that's all Lovecraftian influence.
You also have Lovecraft to thank for a raft of awesome boardgames and RPGs, from the classic Call of Cthulhu to Eldritch Horror and Cthulhu Wars.
While Lovecraft's stories are typically labeled fantasy (hence his likeness being the trophy for the World Fantasy Award), he was really a science fiction writer, or perhaps science fantasy. His Elder Gods and the inhuman things that served them were not "gods" in the sense of being truly divine, but rather vast cosmic powers who exist on a scale beyond human comprehension. The "magic" sometimes found in his stories, even spells read from books like the Necronomicon, are likewise means of bending reality in ways Man Was Not Meant to Know, but ultimately his creatures are aliens, not demons, and his supernatural horror stems from science perverted beyond recognition, not from arcane witchcraft. Whenever something in the way of a more "traditional" monster appears in a Lovecraft story, like a mere ghost or vampire or werewolf, it's probably something much, much worse.
This collection contains most of Lovecraft's better known stories, focusing largely on his Cthulhu mythos cycle, so there is lots of squamous horror here. All the familiar names are here: Cthulhu, Hastur, Shub-Niggurath, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth, Dagon, etc. Monsters of all shapes and sizes, and degenerate inbred New England townsfolk who usually have nasty things in their barns, wells, attics, and woods.
If you want a Lovecraft primer, this is a good start. I'd read all these stories before, but many of them I had not read for years, so I enjoyed going through the classics again even if they don't bring me quite the same feeling of existential horror they did when I was a teenager.
It's a fine collection of creepy and fantasy stories, and great inspiration before playing a game of Arkham Horror or Call of Cthulhu.