The Illustrated Man
[rate 3.5] This book epitomises the reason I love science fiction so much – in no other genre is it possible to explore so totally the different directions society could go in.
This is a collection of short stories by one of the greats of short-story telling. Some people sneer at short stories, saying that they are a cop out and not proper literature. Not true in my opinion. A well crafted short story can be a gem, making us think of things in a new way, and at his best Bradbury excells at the art. The Illustrated Man, unfortunately, is not Bradbury at his best. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t read it – Bradbury on an off day is still better than the majority of people on a good day – and there are one or two in the collection of 16 that are really rather supreme. It was published in 1952, which should clue you in to the mind-set it was written from. America had recently proven they had the power to wipe us clear off the face of the Earth, racial tensions were reaching critical mass, the space race was just in its infancy, and new technology was appearing on the scene faster than ever before.
The Other Foot: This starts out amazingly. The premise of the story is that in the 60’s, Mars was settled entirely by black people, and, whilst they are making a great community, back home on Earth it’s WW3. Cut to 20 years later and a lone rocket, with a few (white) surviors, lands on Mars, ready to extend the hand of friendship. For Earth has been effectively destroyed and they want to move the remaining hundred thousand or so to Mars to start over. Cue much racial tension, hatred, and reverse apartheid action, for the Martians haven’t forgotten all the Earthlings had done to them and theirs.
Up till the last page of this I was totally hooked, thinking what an amazing tale this was, and how cleverly Bradbury had, by turning the tables with whites being the oppressed, made a clear and powerful statement of the stupidity of segregation and the need for reconcilliation. This has all the makings of a modern day parable I thought to myself. And then, he goes and wimps out. Read it for yourself to find out why, but I closed the book in disgust, went into the kitchen, and wailed at Jo for half an hour about what a chicken Bradbury is.
The Highway: Apparently, The Highway is famous in American/Atomic history circles for being an insightful look at apocolyptic America. I went into it with an open mind and enjoyed it, though it is really short, even for a short story (5 pages), but I wouldn’t say it was amazingly insightful into post-apocolyptic America. The bomb is mentioned once and I am still not certain why the people were streaming north INTO America, but what the hey. For me, the story tells you more about the rich ignoring the poor on their doorstep and how, even when one way of life is wiped off the map, everyone else just keeps on going. The complete surprise and total lack of regret expressed by the Mexican when the American says ‘the world is over’ is beautiful in its simplicity and applicability to todays climate. What do they mean, ‘the world’?
Kalidescope: Got to love those gory, drawn out, death scenes in space. You are given no clue as to what went wrong, no real idea of why these men were in space in the first place, but you don’t need that. The Kalidescope is a wonderfully written piece looking at how people face certain death. The ending is a little corny, but that can be forgiven, because you get a glimpse of a society where space is seemingly travelled by hardened Mormon vetrans (one guy has at least three wives on three separate planets. Brave guy). Yes, the image of space/colonies as the modern Wild West, is now passe but remember – 1952, not so much.
The Man: A space-age collection wouldn’t be complete without at least one tale of the search for God in the cosmos. Patchy writing, good ideas.