Bradbury, the author, and this book are both iconic symbols of science fiction. But the book really isn’t science fiction per se. As Bradbury himself says in the introduction, it’s myth. A bugaboo of mine is how booksellers and even libraries lump together science fiction and fantasy. I consider them separate genres. This book would clearly fall into the fantasy half since there is very little science in it. Bradbury makes little effort to portray Mars in ways that are remotely plausible to today’s audience. It is covered with water-filled canals, has sufficient oxygen for people to breathe, and is already populated by happily married Martian couples much resembling humans only with crystal hair and triangular doors. It often sounds silly, and in truth, it mostly is.
But the book isn’t intended to be hard science fiction like, say, The Martian. Bradbury uses Mars as metaphor, recreating the despoliation of the Americas by the Europeans, for how our earthly society could be so much better, or so much worse. Many later sci-fi books have done the same thing, but this book paved the way. It is rather amusing at times, as well as disappointing to some extent, to see how inaccurately the author foresaw the future. Of course it’s easy to see in hindsight, but Bradbury posits the families of the future to look mostly like the families of middle America in the 1950s. Women are happy to stay in the kitchen and go to the beauty parlor. All astronauts are men and most of them smoke cigars. Vehicles on Mars are all gas hogs with fossil fuel rocketed up from Earth. Come on, Ray, electric cars have been around since the 1890s. You could have done better even back then. By today’s standards, the book seems rather juvenile, but it deserves its place in the pantheon of pioneering science fiction.