Visions of Paradise

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Illustrated Man

One morning last fall I arrived at school and found 10 paperback books in my mailbox, 8 of them by Ray Bradbury, only two of which I had read previously, The Martian Chronicles and The Machineries of Joy. For some reason, although I loved both those books, I only have 2 other Bradbury books in my collection, Fahrenheit 451 and a massive 1980 collection The Stories of Ray Bradbury, containing what they claimed was his 100 best stories. I enjoyed all those books, so my immediate thought was to keep the 6 Bradbury books I had not read. But then I decided it would be better to share some of the books with some friends at school who also enjoy science fiction: George, a physics teacher who recommended the series Battlestar Gallactica to me two years ago; my brother David who has been reading sf his whole life, although his first love is really mysteries; and Preeti, who bought two classic Indian novels for me last summer.

That night I immediately started reading The Illustrated Man. Keeping in mind it has been thirty years since I have read any Bradbury, except for an occasional story here and there, I really did not know if his particular brand of fiction would still have any resonance with me. Happily, and perhaps not surprisingly, the answer is definitely yes. In his prime Bradbury had the ability to write fiction which kept one foot in pure sense of wonder and the other foot in the darker side of life. While his stories are very literate, combining outstanding writing with strong characterization, the stories in this book are nowhere near the type of slipstream fiction which barely tingles the edges of genre fiction. Both his fantasy and his science fiction demonstrate pure sfnal hearts and love that many of today’s “borderline” writers, including some who have been influenced by Bradbury, do not share at all. And for somebody who has grown a bit weary of contemporary stories which are primarily mainstream with only the merest hint of f&sf, early Bradbury is a welcome tonic since it is good literature while still firmly sfnal.

While many of Bradbury’s stories are more vignettes than complete stories, they always have a point, and it is usually a point with a dark heart. The most famous story in the collection is probably “The Veldt,” about the two children who transfer their love for their parents to their interactive nursery. The story’s ending is obvious from the first page–or perhaps that is merely residual memory from having read the story previously–but the story still succeeds in spite of it.

Other strong stories include:

• “Kaleidoscope,” about a group of astronauts whose spaceship has been destroyed and who are all trapped in space, obviously not being rescued, and thus fated to die;
• “The Long Rain,” about a group of Earthmen trapped in the endless rain of the traditional Venus, seeking the Sun Domes where Earthlike environments have been established;
• “The Rocket Man,” which describes a lure of space so strong that it keeps a man away from his family even while he tries desperately to keep his son away from the same life;
• “The Exiles,” which might have been the inspiration for “The Fireman,” in its description of the ghosts of famous writers such as Poe, Dickens, Bierce, who have fled to Mars after the banning of all their books on Earth;
• “The Fire Balloons,” about a group of priests relocating to Mars with the intention of saving the ancient Martians from their sins.

While The Illustrated Man is not as strong as The Martian Chronicles, it will not disappoint those who seek another fix of Bradbury fiction.


  • What were those classic Indian novels?

    By Blogger JP, At 3:55 AM  

  • Ramayana and Marabharata. I definitely plan to read one of them next summer.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 3:56 PM  

  • Ahhh. I hardly think of them as novels - in the same way it seems a little odd to call the Odyssey or the Iliad a novel. Funny thing, that. The Mahabharatha is the more epic, sweeping story, with a vast cast of characters and a mammoth battle. The Ramayana has a smaller number of a focus characters, and relatively more straightforward plot. Both are epic tales that have stood the test of time, for what it's worth, and ones that still play a large part in the collective consciousness of some one billion people on this planet. I look forward to your reactions as you read them!

    By Blogger JP, At 12:41 AM  

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