Friday, November 30, 2018

Review: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man
by Ray Bradbury

It had been a long time since I’d read anything by Ray Bradbury, but recently a copy of The Illustrated Man came my way, and it seemed like a good time to try this author again. The Illustrated Man is a collection of eighteen short stories, framed by a prologue and epilogue, all dating from the period 1948 to 1951. (The selection of stories in the collection varies somewhat from edition to edition; the ones mentioned here are all included in the 2011 edition held by Lincoln City Libraries.)

Though Bradbury is usually considered a science fiction writer, he said in later years that his only science fiction work was Fahrenheit 451, and all of his other speculative fiction was fantasy. But by the standards of the time when these stories were originally published, some would have been considered science fiction, some fantasy, and some would fall somewhere between the two. With only one or two exceptions, the stories have a dark tone, bordering in some cases on horror – “Zero Hour” is particularly chilling. “The Veldt” could have been the inspiration for Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “holodeck” – particularly those episodes where something goes wrong. “The Long Rain,” though set on Venus (and written at a time when some scientists thought that Venus might be habitable), is a psychological study of the effects of prolonged exposure to extremely harsh conditions. “The Concrete Mixer” is a satire commenting on militarism on the one hand, and the banality of popular culture on the other. “The Exiles,” perhaps my favorite story in the collection, is a surreal fantasy with themes prefiguring those in Fahrenheit 451. Special mention should be made of “The Other Foot,” since it shows both a strength and a weakness of Bradbury’s. The story involves the arrival of a white man on Mars, which had been colonized decades before by African-Americans (“Negros,” in the terminology of the early 1950’s). For the time when it was published, nearly 70 years ago, this story was controversially progressive in its view of race relations, though it may not seem so from our perspective. But this progressiveness is not paralleled in Bradbury’s portrayal of gender roles in the stories, in which there is not the slightest hint of anything other than a patriarchal society with women in subservient roles. So this collection can only be recommended with a strong warning that this particular blind spot on the author’s part will seem uncomfortable to most modern readers.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Fahrenheit 451, also by Ray Bradbury, or the works of Isaac Asimov.] [ official Illustrated Man page on the official Ray Bradbury web site ]

Recommended by Peter J.
Virtual Services – Bennett Martin Public Library

Have you read this one? What did you think? Did you find this review helpful?

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