So, I couldn’t make it through short story week without talking about a full-length book, but it’s a collection of short stories, so it counts. Right?
Famous primarily for his novel Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s less popular Illustrated Man is actually his second collection of short stories. It was originally published in 1951, and since that time has never been out of print. The stories are held together by the intro and outro device that is the Illustrated Man himself, who is covered in tattoos, each of which can come alive to tell a story. As for the stories themselves, they include some that you may have read in school, like The Veldt and The Other Foot, as well as some you’ve probably never seen before (Bradbury was prolific). Each of the short stories builds upon the same themes, such as the darkness of human expectations, and they all imply that the future is likely to be dark and desolate as humans cease to relate to each other. All though most of the stories were originally written in the 1940s and 50s, they all remain relevant and are classics of dystopian and science fiction.
Here’s the full contents of the book (brackets give the alternate titles under which a story has been published):
- Prologue: The Illustrated Man
- The Veldt [The World the Children Made]
- The Other Foot
- The Highway
- The Man
- The Long Rain [“Death-by-Rain”]
- The Rocket Man
- The Fire Balloons [‘In This Sign…’]
- The Last Night of the World
- The Exiles [The Mad Wizards of Mars]
- No Particular Night or Morning
- The Fox and the Forest [To the Future
- The Visitor
- The Concrete Mixer
- Marionettes, Inc.
- The City [Purpose]
- Zero Hour
- The Rocket [Outcast of the Stars]
(Quick note: the British version, published in 1952, omits “The Rocket Man,” “The Fire Balloons,” and “The Concrete Mixer” and adds in their respective places “Usher II,” “The Playground,” and an eponymous story “The Illustrated Man.” While I am not now nor ever been British, my second-hand copy follows the British version of stories included.)
I liked each of the stories themselves, my one issue with the piece is that the Illustrated Man doesn’t appear anywhere except the prologue and the epilogue (and in the eponymous story if you own/read the British version). In my opinion, if the Man showed up more often in-between stories it would have created a stronger theme for the collection. Then again, that’s just me. Other than that, there isn’t much to critique; if you liked Fahrenheit 451 or otherwise enjoy 50s-era science fiction, you’ll definitely want to give The Illustrated Man a read.
Since it’s short story week, I’ll also talk about my favorite story from this collection: “The Long Rain”. In this story, a group of astronauts are stranded in the perpetual rain that falls on the surface of Venus. The group is attempting to traverse the tempest to reach a “sun dome”, structures built by humans to keep them out of the rain. Upon reaching the first dome, they discover it has been destroyed and will not be able to shelter them. The group then must set out for the next closest dome. Along the way, members of the group are driven to madness and suicide by the uninterrupted squall, leaving a single astronaut to find the next sun dome. You’ll have to read the story yourself to find out what happens to him when he gets to this second dome, but I love the ending myself (5/5). My second favorite is “The Playground,” because it’s extra creepy, even for Bradbury. It centers around a man who is haunted by childhood bullying, and tries to keep his young son from the playground in order to spare him the same treatment. The lengths he will go to in order to protect his son are… disturbing. But well intentioned? (4/5).
AND WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE? Bradbury, besides being a prolific writer, was also often drawn upon to inspire other artists. There is a movie based on this collection, released in 1969. I’ve never seen it, but I’ve heard it’s good? If I ever do see it, I’ll make sure to update y’all!
But other than the movie, there is also an album produced in 2008 by Samuel Otten that is meant to be listened to while reading. There are also numerous TV shows, movies, songs, etc. that have drawn on individual pieces in the collection, or drawn from several together to create new stories.
Lastly, did anyone know that an episode of Criminal Minds heavily draws on The Illustrated Man? Episode 20 of season 5 “A Thousand Words” introduces a serial killer who has tattoos that are important to the case, and the genius Dr. Spencer Reid mentions this book several times in relation to the case. It’s not often one of my favorite books makes it onto television, so I was tickled that this lesser known Bradbury work got a shout-out on a mainstream TV show.