Ray Bradbury wrote The Martian Chronicles and that's enough for him to be my hero forever. Of course, he wrote a lot of other great stuff too, much of which I read in high school and beyond -- Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Summer, The Illustrated Man, and tons and tons of short stories. Not all of it was science fiction, and non of it was "science fiction" the way most people understood that term, with ray guns and monster aliens and invaders from space. In Ray's stories, especially in The Martian Chronicles, the aliens were us.
I have a special fondness for his story "The Fog Horn," about a prehistoric dinosaur who wakes up in the modern day, roused by the lowing of a fog horn that he thinks is a mating call from one of his fellows. This little scene got expanded and incorporated into the terrific 1953 Ray Harryhausen movie, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. As in a lot of those movies, the monster is actually a somewhat sympathetic character, and that sympathy has its roots in Bradbury's original story.
Anyway, I must have read The Martian Chronicles a dozen times and I'm confident I'll read it again. It's a book about the colonization of Mars, but putting it that way is like saying that Macbeth is a story where some bad stuff happens. Bradbury riffs on Martian colonization as a way to address ideas about colonialism, about racism, about consumption and carelessness and simple lack of respect for anything outside of ourselves and our own tiny little immediate needs. It's a mighty serious book dressed up as a rollicking good yarn, and it has both terrific writing on the sentence level and an irresistible, episodic structure. If you haven't read it, please do so, soon. Killer ending too.
I guess Ray was 91 when he died on Tuesday, so you can't really say, "Oh, he was taken before his time." But still, I'll miss him. He was one of these old guys who was always around, ever since I was old enough to be aware of anything at all.
Thanks for the stories, Ray.