The Illustrated Man - 2015 Reading Challenge
“We're all fools, all the time. It's just we're a different kind each day. We think, I'm not a fool today. I've learned my lesson. I was a fool yesterday but not this morning. Then tomorrow we find out that, yes, we were a fool today too. I think the only way we can grow and get on in this world is to accept the fact we're not perfect and live accordingly.” Oh, how we needed you in this world, Ray Bradbury. For anyone who says that science fiction or fantasy have less meaning than literary fiction, I challenge you to read Bradbury. He was a fan of sci-fi before Star Trek was a thing. He was into dystopian before Suzanne Collins was even a twinkle in her parents' eyes. For sheer enjoyability, cleverness, and lovability of characters, he puts many writers of contemporary 'serious' fiction to shame.
A book set in the future
The Illustrated Man is a novel of short stories, a sadly rare art form these days. It can be called a novel because all the stories take place in the same world, although at different points of time and with different characters, but revolving around a relatively similar premise:
It is the future, and humanity is screwed.
The story begins with two travelers meeting each other on a road. One is covered in tattoos and soon reveals to the other that the ink is magical and tells the future to whoever is looking at them. Fascinated, the man stays up after the tattooed traveler falls asleep, and watches as the ink begins to tell stories of the future.
There are almost 20 stories included in The Illustrated Man. The characters change, but the concepts don't. We trek across the rainy plains of Venus with several men going mad from the constant water as they search for shelter. After a rocket explodes, we float free in space along with several other astronauts who will be eternally falling to their deaths. We glimpse the evil minds of spoiled children whose nursery walls turn into live images of whatever they are picturing in their heads, and watch as they imagine an African desert filled with lions who will devour their parents if the children are not given what they want.
In Bradbury's vision of the early 21st century, all African Americans have abandoned Earth to live on Mars and exist there quite happily for 20 years. One day, a rocket lands with a solitary white man, begging that those left on a destroyed and dying earth might be allowed to come and live on Mars if they agree to endure all the abuse and do all the mundane jobs that black people did when they lived on earth. At first, the black people decide to impose segregation on the whites in retaliation for all their years of suffering on earth, before ultimately deciding to go another way. This chapter, in particular, stood out as one of the most brilliant, moving, and visionary in the novel.
Unfortunately for me, I happened to get the British publication, which omits a few of the short stories that were originally included, so I now have to track those down to avoid missing out. Honestly, I could have kept reading that book for a long time and not gotten tired of the beautiful prose and incredible ideas.
I could go through and summarize each story, including my review of it within the novel, etc etc. Instead, though, I'm just going to tell you this: read it. It's actually really important that you do.
Books like Bradbury's and George Orwell's and even Suzanne Collins' (Hunger Games, in case you're wondering) are important because they're like the tattooed man in this novel. They show what the future can be, and probably will be, unless we get together now to change it. A future in which Earth is ravaged by nuclear war and families are torn apart by constant use of devices and parents won't allow their children to experience pain so they never grow up.
Read The Illustrated Man. Please. And if you're looking for others like it, shoot me an email or a comment. I've got a load of recommendations.
Feature image: Copyright 2012, garysan97.