Illustrated Man, The by Bradbury, Ray, 1951

Illustrated Man, The by Bradbury, Ray - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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Ray Bradbury has been one of the most identifiable writers of SF genre stories for about sixty years now, and despite his advanced age, he has only let up a bit. He is one of the more literate authors of SF stories and along with Ursula K. Le Guin and, to a lesser degree and due mostly to the inclusion of his stories in The New Yorker Stanislaw Lem, is one of the most visible SF authors to those who do not read SF regularly. Bradbury is most identified with Mars because of his visionary fix-up The Maritan Chronicles but this book, The Illustrated Man runs a close second as one of his top four or five works. Themes that are important to the man, as you shall soon see, include family, space, space travel, aliens, revenge, exploration and nostalgia. The Illustrated Man is one of Bradbury's best short story collections. Bradbury has added a prologue and epilogue that tell the back story, so Ill just review each of the stories here for you. Four out of five stars.

Prologue: The Illustrated Man: The Prologue is the unifying element of the book that draws all of the various short stories together to tell one tale. In it a hiker in Wisconsin meets a forty year old man who is covered with illustrations, not tattoos. The illustrated man tells the hiker that the illustrations move at night and can predict the future. He got the illustrations on his body from a witch from the future. He says that he has been looking for the witch for fifty years, so there may be some other applied magic or technology. He wants to find the witch and kill her for cursing him. Even though he is a carnie, he is usually fired pretty quickly as he is too weird even for that lot. He points the hiker to a particular patch on his right shoulder and tells him that if he and the man form a relationship, he will be able to see the manner of his death there. The men split a meal and go to sleep. During the night the hiker watches the man's illustrations move and tell the following stories.

The Veldt: The Hadley family has bought he quintessential house of the future. The entire house is basically a big A.I. robot that tends to all of their needs. The house is so good that the parents begin to feel separated from their own children, whom they really have to do nothing for any longer. The house is equipped with a nursery which is a Star Trek-like holodeck that can learn telepathically from the children. It spends most of its time set to depict a bloodily realistic African veltd scene, complete with a pride of hunting lions. The kids, Wendy and Peter, are compulsively plugged into the room and suffer from a form of addiction. When the parents became concerned and threatened to turn off the house for a few weeks and live like they used to, the kids come up with a plan to keep that from happening. They lure the parents into the room and demonstrate something that the parents didnít know: The holograms can be programmed to have physical bodies, and can kill!

Kaleidoscope: A rocket ship in space explodes and sends its space-suited crew off in various directions at very high velocities. No other ship is able to rescue any of the men, but they all remain in radio contact with each other as they speed towards their fates.

It's the Earth for me. Back to old Mother Earth at ten thousand miles per hour. I'll burn like a match. Hollis thought of it with a queer abstraction of mind. He seemed to be removed from his body, watching it fall down and down through space, as objective as he had been in regard to the first falling snowflakes of a winter season long gone.

The crew goes through panic, and gradually adjusts to what has happened. One crew member goes into a meteor shower. Another impacts the moon. Several others speed off the deeper space, or gas giant's systems. At first all of them take pot shots at each other out of fear of death, but before they lose radio contact they all try to go to their deaths with a clean conscience. This is an excellent story.

The Other Foot: All the blacks of the world have migrated to Mars and set up a utopic civilization. They have had no contact with the Earth for twenty years, when a rocket ship lands at their field. Most of the people are excited to see someone new, and many of them have never seen a white person in the flesh before. But some of the old ones remember the brutal repression they were subjected to, and grab rope and rifles before they head out to greet their visitor. The visitor is in fact a white man, who tells the Martians that Earth has been virtually destroyed in an all out war. There are perhaps several thousand people left alive, and they would like to immigrate to Mars as Earth is now uninhabitable. The rocketeer visitor understands the irony of the situation, and offers the survivors services as servants in exchange for the right to immigrate. One of the older men keeps recalling the white men who lynched his uncle under a particular tree on a hill in Tennessee. But when he asks the visitor about that town and is told that everything in it, including that hill and that tree were destroyed in an atomic blast, his heart melts and he relents.

The Highway: A Mexican family lives along a little-used road that leads to the U.S. One day traffic dies to nothing, then a steady stream of cars come from the south. Once they have all passed a family in a jalopy stop to ask for some water. They inform the man that Mexico City has been nuked. They take his water and leave, and the farmer resigns himself to his own life, which is unlikely to change at all.

The Man: Captain Hart and his first mate, Martin land on a planet. Hart is unhappy that his presence, which is a first contact, is being ignored. He sends Martin down to the town who reports that a Messiah has just arrived, and everyone is excited about that. Martin's heart swells with joy, but Hart thinks that a pretender is trying to take the planet's resources by lying to the foolish locals. Hart tortures the residents but they refuse to tell him where the Messiah is. Eventually the tell Hart that he has just left, and Hart decides to pursue him. Martin stays, and is brought to the Messiah who is still there.

The Long Rain: A group of lost soldiers on Venus trudge through the jungle and the planet's endless, violent rainstorms. They are in search of a building called the Sun Room, where soldiers on patrol can stop to get out of the rain and enjoy the artificial sunlight of their home world. They make a number of wrong turns and get lost frequently, and the elements kill various members of the squad. When they reach the Sun Room it has been destroyed, probably by the intelligent Venusians from the sea who would like nothing more than to end the threat of the Earthlings. But what can they do, but trudge on and look for the next Sun Room?

The Rocket Man: A father and husband has the very important job of piloting a rocket to another planet. The pilot's son worships his father for doing this job, but his wife has written him off and is just waiting for him to die. The father does his job dutifully, but tries to convince his son to never follow in his footsteps. You are not sure whether or not he has succeeded in turning his son's attentions to something healthier when notice of his death reaches his home.

The Fire Balloons: The Catholic Church decides to send a mission of priests to Mars where they believe sin runs rampant. The priests discover two races of Martians. One is humanoid and the other is a ball of light that nobody thinks is intelligent. The priests are caught in an avalanche and are saved by members of the ball species. They try to preach to the Martians, and are told that the Martians have evolved out of their former bodies, and are already at peace with God.

The Last Night of the World: As a husband and wife compare notes about the days that they just had, it dawns on the reader that the couple know that the world will be ending as they sleep that night. Everyone is calm and happy, and revels in their mundane but love filled lives. They go to bed on time that night.

The Exiles:

No Particular Night or Morning: Clemens and Hitchcock are crew on a ship in space. Hitchcock, who likes to talk, begins saying odd things and starts doubting the existence of things that he cannot see or touch, like the Earth and his wife on it. Other crew members become concerned. Hitchcock is having a typical reaction to someone in space for the first time, but ordinarily the spaceman just gets drunk and wakes up feeling better. Hitchcock does not drink, and gets worse as the days go on. He eventually goes completely crazy and airlocks himself in a space suit. He has come to doubt even what he can feel and see, and craves the stimulus free environment of space.

The Fox and the Forest: A couple is vacationing in Mexico after they have fled the repressive U.S. government which needs them for a nuclear war they are waging. This story is a game of cat and mouse, and the couple is caught, then deal and escape, then are caught again.

The Visitor: Saul had been exiled to Mars with an incurable disease called Blood Rust. Many others of the infected from Earth are there too. The disease makes the infected sleep more and more until they just fade away in death. Leonard is exiled after Saul. Saul meets his ship as it lands, and learns that Leonard has an extraordinary mental power that allows him to alter reality for anyone he can speak to. Saul captures Leonard so that nobody else can use him, but the others figure out what Leonard can do and kill him trying to get him away from Saul.

The Concrete Mixer: Ettil, a Martian youth is drafted in a war against Earth. He does not want to go because he thinks Mars will lose and they will all die. But he is forced to the ship and when the fleet arrives at Earth, the Earthlings just give up. The Martians move in and occupy, but soon learn that Earth's rich cultures are no match for theirs, and that the ultimate battle may be fought without a shot being fired.

Marionettes, Inc.: Robotic replacements for spouses who desire some time away by themselves fall in love with the spouses they were made to fool, and revolt and kill their owners.

The City: A city has sat unoccupied for twenty thousand years when a ship of Earthling soldiers arrives to search for something. The city is an AI and it gradually awakens and finds out that the visitors are men of Earth. Many milennia ago Earthlings destroyed the city's citizens with disease bombs, and the city has sat waiting for eons for men to come back. The city captures all the men, rips their skin off their bodies and puts robotic bodies and brains inside. It sends them back to Earth with disease bombs of its own. This was my favorite story in the book.

Zero Hour: A Martian Fifth Columnist named Drill has reached out mentally to any Earthling that can hear his thoughts. It turns out you have to be younger than nine years old to hear him. Drill begins organizing the children and planning the defense of the Earth from the Martian fleets. The parents never really realize what is going on.

The Rocket: A poor man dreams of and fills his kid's head with flying a rocket to Mars. He is a scrap dealer and someone sells him a full sized mock up of a rocket made of aluminum. The man and his children go on an imaginary journey together. This is my second favorite story in the book.

Epilogue: In the blank space on the Illustrated Man's shoulder the camper sees the Illustrated Man strangling him, so he runs away.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3.5 star(s)

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