Fiction Reviews

The Illustrated Man

(1952/2008) Ray Bradbury, HarperCollins, 7.99, pbk, 294pp, ISBN 978-0-006-47922-2


This is the 2008 re-issue of Ray Bradbury's 1952 classic collection of SF shorts. In fact this is (currently) the latest edition of the collection that has been more or less continually in print since it was released on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain alone recent re-issues have included those by: Grafton in 1977 which then went on to be reprinted 8 times; Flamingo Modern Classics in 1999 where it was reprinted 6 times; and Harper Perennial in 2005. This HarperCollins edition was produced to mark Ray Bradbury receiving a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation Award in 2007.

This collection of shorts is bracketed by two short sequences (with a third couple of lines halfway through the book) about a young man walking along a road when he comes across a heavily tattooed person camping by the roadside. The person tells the young man that his tattoos are almost alive and tells tales... The collection of short stories are these tales...

The Veld is an artificial African veld in the children's nursery of a couple. Yet it seems realistic with a certain natural brutality.

Kaleidoscope follows the fate of a rocket ship crew when their ship explodes decanting them into space. Now if you ever wondered what inspired the ending to the 1974 film, Dark Star now you know.

The Other Foot sees the survivor of an atomic war on Earth land on another planet that has already been colonised... This is Bradbury's anti-racism story and it must have been all the more powerfull back in 1952 though its message is still relevant today.

carries a tide of humanity past curious locals. Why is everyone on the move?

The Man was there on the colony world before the spaceship from the distant Earth authorities arrived. Was he for real?

The Long Rain is quite simply what you expect on Venus (remember that this was written in 1952 and then one of the science fact predictions for the surface of Venus was that it was a hot steamy world possibly harbouring an ocean and maybe land with tropical rainforests. (Well, they were right about the hot.) Two soldiers are trying to make it to the refuge of a Sun Dome.

is the name of a house built by a multimillionaire, but why? This one is for Poe fans.

The Last Night of the World. What would you do if you knew that this literally was the last night of the World? It is one of a few stories in this collection concerned with the threat of atomic war. Again, remember that this was written in the early 1950s and SF was the genre that first used the threat of nuclear Armageddon as a common trope.

The Rocket. A man has to dream and have goals, even if it is to build a rocket to go to Mars.

No Particular Night or Morning. Going into space will present its own psychological problems.

The Fox and the Forest. There is one way of escaping a world preparing for possible nuclear war; take a holiday in time. Of course holidays have to end, so...

The Visitor. Earth exiles its malcontents to Mars. And then a newcomer arrives with a strange ability. No wonder he was exiled.

Marionettes Inc. Having a close friend is to be cherished, but if you have nobody close could you buy an artificial one and if so what sort of relationship would it be?

Zero Hour. With Earth under threat from alien invasion it seems surprising that the children seem unconcerned as they play...

The Playground. Of course children's play can be vicious: would you want your offspring to have to bear the brunt of such attentions? If not what would you do to spare them? Be careful what you wish for.

These then are the tales revealed by the illustrated man's tattoos. True, by today's perspective of over half a century on - and that is a half a century of the greatest scientific and technological development in our species' history - these tales seem a little dated. Even so, do not let this put you off. They are neatly crafted and still can instil a sense-of-wonder. They also are the sort of stories that a generation of genre buffs (not to mention today's writers) grew up on. As such this is not just classic science fiction but core SF that today's generation of fans should get: not just because they are good reads but to glimpse one of the forces that shaped modern SF. Now you know why he got the special Pulitzer Prize.

Jonathan Cowie

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