Review: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

“It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping in the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains.”
~Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

Plot summary

“The Illustrated Man is classic Bradbury – a collection of tales that breathe and move, animated by sharp, intaken breath and flexing muscle. Here are eighteen startling visions of humankind’s destiny, unfolding across a canvas of decorated skin – visions as keen as the tattooist’s needle and as colorful as the inks that indelibly stain the body.

Scenic landscape, Le Botanique_001. Photo: UccelloSL (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Scenic landscape, Le Botanique_001. Photo: UccelloSL (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The images, ideas, sounds and scents that abound in this phantasmagoric sideshow are provocative and powerful: the mournful cries of celestial travelers cast out cruelly into a vast, empty space of stars and blackness…the sight of gray dust selling over a forgotten outpost on a road that leads nowhere…the pungent odor of Jupiter on a returning father’s clothing. Here living cities take their vengeance, technology awakens the most primal natural instincts, Martian invasions are foiled by the good life and the glad hand, and dreams are carried aloft in junkyard rockets. Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is a kaleidoscopic blending of magic, imagination, and truth, widely believed to be one of the Grandmaster’s premier accomplishments: as exhilarating as interplanetary travel, as maddening as a walk in a million-year rain, and as comforting as simple, familiar rituals on the last night of the world.” More on Goodreads

On Ray Bradbury

“American novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and poet, was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. He graduated from a Los Angeles high school in 1938. Although his formal education ended there, he became a ‘student of life,’ selling newspapers on L.A. street corners from 1938 to 1942, spending his nights in the public library and his days at the typewriter. He became a full-time writer in 1943, and contributed numerous short stories to periodicals before publishing a collection of them, Dark Carnival, in 1947.

His reputation as a writer of courage and vision was established with the publication of The Martian Chronicles in 1950, which describes the first attempts of Earth people to conquer and colonize Mars, and the unintended consequences. Next came The Illustrated Man and then, in 1953, Fahrenheit 451, which many consider to be Bradbury’s masterpiece, a scathing indictment of censorship set in a future world where the written word is forbidden. In all, Bradbury has published more than thirty books, close to 600 short stories, and numerous poems, essays, and plays.

On the occasion of his 80th birthday in August 2000, Bradbury said, “The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me. The feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was twelve. In any event, here I am, eighty years old, feeling no different, full of a great sense of joy, and glad for the long life that has been allowed me. I have good plans for the next ten or twenty years, and I hope you’ll come along.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
A tree and meteor showers on Mars. Painting and photo: fiktiivinenstina
A tree and meteor showers on Mars. Painting and photo: fictivestina
  • Dreamlike visions of danger
  • Human insufficiency
  • Haunting images of future

“Oh, death in space was most humorous.” ~Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

Review

Sometimes short stories make better science fiction visions than novels. This statement is true about The Illustrated Man (1951) that offers eighteen short stories exploring the nature of humanity. The short plot summary above already gives away the fact that reading the collection is like going on a dreamlike adventure where all possibilities exist. The book is one of my all-time favorite short story collections. It gets imprinted in the brain and never leaves. My absolute favorite among the stories is The Long Rain, originally published in 1950 as Death-by-Rain in the magazine Planet Stories.

Book cover for Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man. Photo: RA.AZ (CC BY 2.0)
Book cover for Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. Photo: RA.AZ (CC BY 2.0)

“There were differences between memories and dreams. He had only dreams of things he had wanted to do, while Lespere had memories of things done and accomplished.” ~Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

Despite the horrendous atmosphere and tragic outcomes in The Illustrated Man, there is hope as well. In some of the stories, there is a slight ray of light and optimism. It could be that not everything ends in a disaster, that occasionally there is an option for a happy ending. This is also apparent in The Long Rain.

If you wish to explore the boundaries of humanity and what comes of human interaction, The Illustrated Man is a must-read. A similar experience is Philip K. Dick’s The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume 5: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. One of the stories in the collection inspired the filming of Total Recall.

Below you’ll find short summaries of each of the eighteen stories. Enjoy and begin the chilling journey of a lifetime. Bradbury’s imagination is boundless, and the reader is kept in suspense until the end of the stories.

Story summaries (Spoiler alert)
  • The Veldt: Parents in a futuristic society worry about their children’s mental health when their new virtual reality nursery, which can produce any environment the children imagine, continually projects an African veldt populated by lions feasting on carcasses.
  • Kaleidoscope: The crew of a space ship drift helplessly through space after their craft malfunctions. The story describes the final thoughts and conversations of the crew members as they face their death.
  • The Other Foot: Mars has been colonized solely by black people. When they learn that a rocket is coming from Earth with white travellers, they institute a Jim Crow system of racial segregation in retaliation for the past mistreatment of blacks by whites.
  • The Highway: A husband and wife living by a highway in rural Mexico live their simple, regimented lives while the highway fills with refugees of a nuclear war.
  • The Man: Space explorers find a planet where the population is in a state of bliss. Upon investigation, they discover that an enigmatic visitor came to them, whom the spacemen come to believe is Jesus.
  • The Long Rain: A group of astronauts are stranded on Venus, where it
    The Long Rain, inspired by Ray Bradbury's novel. Painting and photo: fiktiivinenstina
    The Long Rain, inspired by Ray Bradbury’s novel. Painting and photo: fictivestina

    rains continually and heavily. The travellers make their way across the Venusian landscape to find a “sun dome”, a shelter with a large artificial light source.

  • The Rocket Man: Astronauts are few in number, so they work whenever they wish and receive high pay. One such “Rocket Man” goes into space for three months at a time, returning to Earth only for three consecutive days to visit his wife and son.
  • The Fire Balloons: A group of priests travel to Mars to act as missionaries to the Martians. They discover that the natives are entities of pure energy.
  • The Last Night of the World: A married couple awaken to the knowledge that the world is going to end that very evening.
  • The Exiles: Numerous works of literature are banned and burned on Earth. The deceased authors of these books live in a kind of afterlife on Mars.
  • No Particular Night or Morning: Two friends in a spaceship, Clemens and Hitchcock, discuss the emptiness and cold of space.
  • The Fox and the Forest: A couple living in a war-ravaged future society on the brink of collapse uses time travel to escape to 1938 Mexico.
  • The Visitor: Mars is used as isolation for people with deadly illnesses. One day, the planet is visited by a young man of 18 who has the ability to perform telepathy.
  • The Concrete Mixer: A reluctant Martian soldier is forced to join the army as they prepare to invade Earth.
  • Marionettes, Inc.: A married man buys a realistic robot to act as a surrogate so that he doesn’t have to deal with his wife.
  • The City: A rocket expedition from Earth lands on an uncharted planet and finds a seemingly empty city. As the humans begin to explore, they realize that the city is not as empty as it seems.
  • Zero Hour: Children across the country are deeply involved in an exciting game they call “Invasion”.
  • The Rocket: Fiorello Bodoni, a poor junkyard owner, has saved $3,000 to fulfill his dream to send one member of his family into outer space.

More on Wikipedia

Other novels and stories by Bradbury
  • The Martian Chronicles (1949)
  • Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  • The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953)
  • Dandelion Wine (1957)
  • R Is for Rocket (1962)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)
  • Machineries of Joy (1964)
  • S is for Space (1966)
  • I Sing the Body Electric! & Other Stories (1969)
  • Long After Midnight (1976)
  • Zen in the Art of Writing (1987)
  • Quicker Than the Eye (1996)
  • Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band Is Playing & Leviathan ’99 (2007)

More novels and stories listed on Goodreads

“My tunes and numbers are here. They have filled my years, the years when I refused to die. And in order to do that I wrote, I wrote, I wrote, at noon or 3:00 A.M. So as not to be dead.”
~Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

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Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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