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The Illustrated Man
Ray Bradbury
Avon Books, 320 pages

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 thirties, and continues to produce important work today.
During Mikhail Gorbachov's 1990 summit meeting in New York, he made a special trip to visit "my favorite author," who he claimed to have read in the original versions. Bradbury is American fantasy's great ambassador.

Related Links
The Illustrated Man Excerpt
The Ray Bradbury Theatre
PENDULUM by Ray Bradbury and Henry Hasse (1941)

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Tim Krauskopf

From "The City":

"The city waited twenty thousand years. The planet moved though space and the flowers of the fields grew up and fell away, and still the city waited; and the rivers of the planet rose and waned and turned to dust. Still the city waited. The winds that had been young and wild grew old and serene, and the clouds of the sky that had been ripped and torn were left alone to drift in idle whitenesses. Still the city waited.

The city waited with its windows and its black obsidian walls and its sky towers and its unpennanted turrets, with its untrod streets and its untouched doorknobs, with not a scrap of paper or a fingerprint upon it. The city waited while the planet arced in space, following its orbit about a blue-white sun, and the seasons passed from ice to fire and back to ice and then to green fields and yellow summer meadows."

Young writers learn the art by studying the form and style of the greats. Dickens for showing the society around him, Poe for descriptions so real they terrify and Hemingway for the model of the taciturn short story. I have always thought Bradbury was among the best at social comment, descriptive faculty, and efficient storytelling. If science fiction were more acceptable as standard material, I'm sure the study of his work would be more than an afterthought. Re-reading The Illustrated Man for this review was no chore, any more than viewing yet another Monet painting. It is a true classic.

Bradbury is the master of the short story and you won't be disappointed by any of these 18 gems. The basis for the collection is an extension of the final story, "The Illustrated Man": a tattooed man has magical tattoos which move and change; each one telling an individual story if you watch it long enough and carefully enough. Don't worry about the premise. What you really get are stories on a variety of topics using fantasy and science fiction to explore relationships, social comment and human limits.

Classics always beg the question, how well does it hold up to the tests of time? The stories in The Illustrated Man were published between 1948 and 1951 in a variety of science fiction, fantasy, and popular magazines, including Astounding, Collier's, and Esquire. The good news is that wonderful use of language and mastery of the short story form are still in style, even though the national infatuation with rockets and stepping out into space has evolved into regular shuttle launches and weekly news items from the Mir space station. Somehow fantasies of landing and living on Mars or Venus are spoiled by actual surface landing photos and fly-by atmospheric analysis. I promise, though, that the suspension of disbelief required here is still a lot less than today's typical SF movie.

"The City," quoted above, was built by an ancient race to wreak revenge on a race from a distant planet when the opportunity arose. "The Long Rain" visits a small squad of military men who have crash landed on Venus at an unknown distance from any of its one hundred and twenty small outposts. The catch is that the 100% Venus cloud cover creates an incessant rain, making breathing the air not far from breathing water. We share their survival challenge and somehow share the sheer joy of reaching the goal. In another particularly powerful story, "Kaleidoscope," we can observe and imagine the huge range of emotions and reactions the crew of a space ship might have as they are individually set adrift in space after an explosion.

Of course, one of the reasons we have a new edition to review is the possibility of appealing to a whole new generation of SF fans. Have you even heard of Ray Bradbury? All I can say is you should definitely check him out, whether you start with The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, or The Illustrated Man. You are in for a treat. Like a stereo buff discovering an old garage full of top-of-the-line vacuum tube amplifiers, it may not be how up-to-date the technology is but the richness of the result which defines the experience. Didn't William Gibson get hailed as the modernized, high-tech Bradbury when his first short stories came out? Think of Bradbury as a retro-Gibson. His work can be just as hard-hitting and you'll even find it prophetic on occasion.

This small hardcover edition is very handsome and would be great for an all classics hardcover collection. It contains a new introduction by Bradbury where he relates part of his creative process. His left brain generates the what if while his right brain takes on the serious task of writing, writing, writing. Keep writing, Ray.

Copyright © 1997 by Tim Krauskopf

Tim Krauskopf was recently appointed Head of Information Services at the Field Museum of National History. Before that, he co-founded and managed all software development for Spyglass, Inc, an Internet software company. Tim, his wife Mele, and their four cats reside in Downers Grove, IL.

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