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The Illustrated Man
Ray Bradbury
Narrated by Paul Michael Garcia, unabridged
Blackstone Audio, 9.3 hours

The Illustrated Man
Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest SF and fantasy writers of our time. Born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920, he authored such classics of the genre as The Martian Chronicles (1950) and Farenheit 451 (1953) by his early 30s, and continues to produce important work today.
In 1990, while at a summit meeting in New York, Mikhail Gorbachov made a special trip to visit Bradbury, his "favourite author," whose works he claimed to have read in the original versions. Bradbury is American fantasy's great ambassador.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Golden Apples of the Sun and Other Stories
SF Site Review: Where Everything Ends
SF Site Review: The Martian Chronicles
SF Site Review: Masks
SF Site Review:Summer Morning, Summer Night
SF Site Review: Moby Dick: A Screenplay
SF Site Review: Fahrenheit 451
SF Site Review: Dinosaur Tales
SF Site Review: From the Dust Returned
SF Site Review: Dandelion Wine
SF Site Review: Green Shadows, White Whale
SF Site Review: Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines
SF Site Review: Driving Blind
SF Site Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes
SF Site Review: The Illustrated Man

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Ivy Reisner

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This is a collection of short stories, only loosely tied together in the frame story of a man covered with tattoos.  Each tattoo moves, and each tells a story.  That is one of the many images Ray Bradbury re-imagines over and over again.  The illustrated man who serves as the frame story is likely not the same illustrated man who serves as protagonist in the last story in the collection, and is definitely not the same illustrated man who shows up as a villain in Something Wicked This Way Comes, yet all of them are built on the same idea.  

This is a good collection to use in examining other themes Bradbury revisits throughout his career. The threat of technology dehumanizing us is evident in "The Veldt" and "Marionettes, Inc."  There is the fear of nuclear war in "The Highway," "The Other Foot," "The Fox and the Forest" and only mildly disguised in "The Last Night of the World."  Censorship drives "The Exiles" and is alluded to in "The Concrete Mixer."  

The collection contains the following 18 stories:
"The Veldt": In a future world a house, similar to the one in his "There Will Come Soft Rains" has a nursery that can bring all a child's fantasies to illusionary life.  There can be Alice at a tea party with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare.  There can be pirates or fairies or Cinderella.  The children, aptly named Peter and Wendy, conjure up an African Veldt filled with lions that become too frighteningly realistic.

"Kaleidoscope": One of his best-known stories, also considered one of his most disturbing, this story starts the moment after a spaceship explodes.  The surviving astronauts fall endlessly through space and the whole story is what they say in their final moments.

"The Other Foot": Bradbury couldn't sell this story back when he wrote it.  It was too far ahead of its time, though now it sounds dated.  African Americans, sick of all the nonsense happening to them on Earth, go off and settle Mars.  When the Caucasians finally show up, after having spent the last twenty years blowing themselves and Earth apart, the settlers prepare to reverse the whole game, setting up segregated sections in the back of the bus and the last rows of the theater.  Then the ship from Earth lands, and the first astronaut steps out, and I will not spoil the ending.

"The Highway": A simple, cozy tale about a nuclear holocaust as told by a Mexican farmer.

"The Man": Astronauts land on a faraway world to find they were one day late meeting Jesus (who is never named in the story).

"The Long Rain": Astronauts crash on Venus and must travel to a sun dome to come in out of the non-stop rain.  Venus, in all of Bradbury's stories, is a place of near-constant rain.  He visits it in a powerful, heart-wrenching story, "All Summer in a Day."  In "The Long Rain" the pounding, ceaseless rain hour after hour and day after day slowly drives the astronauts insane.  

"The Rocket Man": A husband and father works as an astronaut.  When he's in space for three months at a shot, he wants nothing more than to go home.  When he's at home for three days at a shot, he wants nothing more than to return to space.  He decides he's going to take one last job, then retire. Meanwhile his wife tells her son that she's always been afraid of him dying. She says if he crashed on Venus, then she would never be able to face seeing that planet again, and if he crashed on Mars, then she would be devastated when the red planet rose in the night sky.  What happens is far worse than she could have ever imagined.

"The Last Night of the World": This is another oddly cozy story.  Everyone knows the world will end one particular night, so they have dinner, read the newspaper, brush their teeth, put the kids to bed, and go to sleep.  It takes someone of Bradbury's skill to pull this kind of story off, but he does it well.

"The Exiles": Stories of fantasy and the supernatural have been banned on Earth, so the authors (mostly risen from the dead) and their characters have gathered to survive on Mars.  Charles Dickens is amongst them, but doesn't think he really belongs.  Poe is their leader and when they learn that an attack is coming from Earth, they prepare to fight back.  

"No Particular Night or Morning": There is an astronaut who doesn't believe in anything he can't immediately hold or see; he lacks object permanence in an almost infant-like way.  He's in space, so as much as he remembers Earth, he doesn't believe Earth exists.  He can't touch the stars, so he doesn't believe they exist. His madness slowly progresses throughout the story.  This demonstrates Bradbury's uncanny ability for understatement better than any of his other works.  

"The Fox and the Forest" A couple flee a war-torn Earth to find refuge in the past.

"The Visitor": The sick are shuttled off to Mars, where they can contaminate no one.  A young telepath arrives who can mentally transport the infected to any time or place and free them from their suffering.  When they learn of his powers, they get greedy and begin to fight over him.  

"The Concrete Mixer": Mars invades Earth.  Rather than fight back, Earth takes this as a great opportunity to sell entertainment products to a new market.  

"Marionettes, Inc": In a time when robots, or marionettes, can simulate and even replace a man, two men decide to replace themselves and run away from their wives for a little while.  One may or may not (the ending is intentionally vague) find himself forcibly and permanently replaced by his doppelganger; the other finds his wife has already pulled the same trick.  The company, Marionettes, Inc., appears in "Punishment Without Crime" in the collection Long After Midnight.  Marionettes, Inc. is also the title of a different story collection by Ray Bradbury.

"The City": A living, breathing city waits for centuries for humanity, its sworn enemy, to come again, so it can exact revenge.  This is powerful in the anthropomorphizing of the mechanics of the city, its breathing, its balancing.  It's a lyrical tale made powerful by Bradbury's use of language.

"Zero Hour": A bunch of kids play at invasion, until the adults realize, it's no game.  

"The Rocket": A poor junkman can afford to send one, and only one, of his family to space. He tries having them draw straws, but knowing the future resentment they'll face, none of them wants to be the one singled out.  So he takes an old, junky rocket and makes a mocked up trip past the moon, to Mars, and home again to fool the children into thinking they really went to space all together.

"The Illustrated Man": A carnival man, who has gained too much weight to work the carnival anymore, goes to a dust witch to become, not just tattooed, but illustrated.  This almost seems like the same dust witch who is in Something Wicked This Way Comes, even to the image of being sewn up by a darning needle dragonfly.  She covers him with glorious images that seem to come alive, but there are two special images, to be unveiled a week apart, when they are ready, one on his chest and one on his back. These images will show the future, and will be formed as a mixture of her ink and his sweat. The first image is of his killing his wife.  The second... well, listen to the story.  

Some editions of The Illustrated Man include "The Fire Balloons" in their collection, but Blackstone Audio kept it with The Martian Chronicles, which is where it truly belongs.

The narrator was almost invisible in this performance, letting the beauty and power of the stories come through.  When he voices characters it's subtle, just enough to help the reader keep track of where the narrative ends and the dialogue begins.  He does a superb job of stepping out of the way of the story.  These stories move easily between the warm, sweet bedtime story, to the haunting tales that will live with you forever.  Listen to them, enjoy them, and you will never forget them.

Copyright © 2011 Ivy Reisner

Ivy Reisner is a writer, an obsessive knitter, and a podcaster. Find her at IvyReisner.com.


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