The author in his foreword defines the work as a psychomyth whose central idea is the theme of a "scapegoat", which means thinking about the price that people are willing to pay for their prosperous existence . The author's subtitle - "variations on a theme from the works of William James" - is omitted in most Russian editions, as is the author's foreword. The parable raises one of the eternal problems - is it justified the existence of a society in which those who have found themselves in the backyard of life coexist, and the prosperous majority, proud of the gusts of compassion for them.
In this form, this theme already sounded in Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov (reflections on the "tear of a child") and in William James in The Moral Philosopher and Moral Life (passage about the "lost soul"). The plot as such is absent. The parable is a description of the happy life of the town called Omelas. The well-being of this town in some mysterious way turned out to be connected with the life of a child who drags out living in complete solitude in a dark basement. Neither the inhabitant of the town dares to change the life of this child, nor even just to approach him with a kind word of comfort - otherwise the happiness for the whole town will end. And all residents know about this child. Most continue to enjoy life, although memories of the unfortunate poison their being. They find reasons to put up with this order of things. But there are those who find the strength to reject him - they are those who leave Omelas.
On Mars, the first landing in the world was made to develop new lands. Harry Bitering, his wife Kora and their children Dan, Laura and David are some of the pioneers. Harry feels like a grain of salt, which was thrown into a mountain stream. He does not belong here, and he understands this. Bittering anticipates misfortune, which soon happens. The next day, Harry's daughter runs in tears and shows his father a newspaper from which he learns about the onset of an atomic war on Earth and the destruction of all missiles that brought the necessary supplies for survival on Mars. A few days after that, Harry wanders around the garden, alone fighting fear. He is terribly lonely. Suddenly, Harry notices strange changes. Vegetables and fruits have become somehow different, the roses have turned green, the grass has acquired a purple hue. Bitering decides to do something and goes to the city. There he meets other calmly seated men. On their proposal to build a rocket, they only laugh. Here he pays attention to their appearance. They became tall, thin, in the depths of their eyes, barely perceptible golden sparks. Looking in the mirror, he notices the same changes in himself. Harry is in the workshop and begins to build a rocket. He agrees to eat only what they have taken from the Earth, the rest rejects. At night, the unfamiliar word "Yorkt" flies from his lips. He learns from his friend that this is the ancient Martian name of the Earth. A few days later, Kora says that the food supplies from the Earth are over, encourages him to eat a Martian sandwich and go with his family to swim in the canal. Sitting on the edge of the canal, Dan asks his father to give him another name - Lynl. Parents agree. Going to an abandoned Martian villa, his wife offers to move there for the summer. The same evening, at work, Harry recalls the villa. A week later, all begin to move to the villas. Something in the depths of the creature Harry desperately resists, but under the onslaught of the family, he agrees to move to the villa until the fall, planning then to take up work again. Over the summer to the bottom, canals dry out, paint is falling off the walls of houses, the skeleton of the rocket begins to rust. The family is not going to return. Looking at the homes of earthlings, his wife and children Harry consider them funny, and people - an ugly people, and rejoice that they are no longer on Mars. Five years pass, and the rocket falls from the sky. People who leave it shout that the war is over. However, the town built by the Americans is empty. Soon the earthlings find Martians with dark skin and golden eyes among the hills of the peace-loving. They have no idea what happened to the city and its population. The captain begins to plan future actions, but the lieutenant does not listen to him anymore. He cannot tear his eyes away from the hills, which are curled by a gentle haze, that bluish away in the distance, beyond the abandoned city. We have a lot to do, Lieutenant! We must build new settlements. Search for minerals, lay mines. Take samples for bacteriological studies. Work on the throat. And all the old reports are lost. We must re-create maps, give names to mountains, rivers, and so on. Let's call those mountains the mountains of Lincoln, what do you say to that? That channel will be the Washington canal, and these hills ... the hills can be named in your honor, Lieutenant. Diplomatic move. And you are kind enough to name a city in my honor. A graceful turn. And why not give this valley the name of Einstein, and that one ... are you listening to me, Lieutenant? What? Yes, yes, of course, sir!
What can robots dream of, created by man? Probably, about becoming people, because they are so little like their creators. And, probably, these metal people with electronic brains will have such opportunities and qualities, which should not be dreamed of by representatives of the human race. Indeed, it is not clear who to consider a man who has freedom, who has his whole body, not artificial. After all, now some people have already replaced limbs, parts of the body for artificial ones, and we often feel suspicious about it, his hand does not feel, so it's not painful and easier for him to lift a weight that is beyond the strength of another with the hand that is given to him from birth. But this is the same person, but ... And if you replace a person with almost everything, what will it be different from a robot? There are many questions in the book, you can think a lot. Of course the robot Andrew, who achieved freedom, has achieved the rights deserves respect, but the end, when he decides that a robot from a man is distinguished by immortality or death and prefers to die to become a man, is strong. But a person hopes that he will become almost immortal, then who will he be?