My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ok, so I just spent half an hour learning about the shibe meme and here is my summary of this short story collection, with all due apologies:
space is exist
The narrative framework for this collection is its titular character, the Illustrated Man, whose moving tattoos—Illustrations—tell stories which the narrator goes on to describe. I don’t want to say too much about it, because it has its own story, but the themes explored in the framework relate back to the rest. (Not that it’s heavily thematic at the beginning, when the point is mostly to set the scene for all the other stories.)
Overall, this collection is very consistent with its themes. It’s Bradbury, and so everything is either contemporary with a little touch of something more, or set anywhere from the near to distant future, but a setting is an excuse to tell a story using what’s available there, and the plots are quite diverse. Ranging from the future of parenthood to finding Jesus to white-black relations to dying in space…and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be, since they are recollected from multiple anthologies and other publications (parts of the Illustrated Man story were written for this collection; read the credits for details). When there’s a major jump in setting, we do get taken back to the framing story—but that happens maybe a couple of times, I believe at least five stories are in a row without any mention of the narrator.
We all know what kind of writer Bradbury was—a fantastic blend of long streams of imagery and crisp action. I don’t think you need me, or at this point anyone else, to sell you on why you should read Bradbury as far as his style is concerned, so let’s go back to the content.
Ironically, I read this on “library killer,” my Kindle.
While Bradbury obviously loves science, he was living at a time when its potential for destruction was a lot more immediate than today’s world of smartphones and motherboards built like neuron networks and phononics and invisibility (the future is COOL), and this is reflected in works where science has completely trumped imagination—which I disagree with, creativity and higher intellect seem to be correlated—but also in works where someone is so insistent on what he can experience that he ignores ‘feelings.’ Which totally happens, so okay, there is that. But even when we’re seeing the far reaches of space, there’s a faint sense of caution, that humans need to remind themselves not to take it too far.
I don’t know why, but I had this weird mental image of Bradbury writing happy stories. (Happy guy? Looks like it. Read the intro.) I thought ‘Dandelion Wine’ was inconsistent with his other works for more than just the non-speculative setting…well, no.
A lot of these stories are downers, insofar as the plots go. It is, yes, exciting to think that someday humans could have such a broad reach, but the overwhelming majority of the players don’t do good things with what they have, and the happy endings tend to be the light at the end of a very long tunnel. Perhaps the mix of exhilaration and caution is what people felt on hearing about space flight during the Cold War. It’s awesome, but how do you know it won’t be weaponized?
Anyway, this is Bradbury. You know you’re in for good writing. I’d recommend reading it in chunks because the thematic consistency can make disparate stories blur together, but sit back, enjoy, and read all of the associated information for more insight.