The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

It’s long been my belief that you should never revisit the things that most impressed you when you were young.  My number one object lesson for this belief is the 1972  science fiction movie Silent Running starring Bruce Dern.  (I’ve posted the trailer for it below.) I was nine-years-old when I saw it.  The special effects, the ecological message, the robots, the final shot of one robot caring for the plants with a battered watering can, it all blew my mind.  I never saw it again, but I have always remembered it.

In college, late one night when the dorm conversation turned to classic made-for-television movies the way it often did, I brought up Silent Running, the movie with that guy alone in space who teaches the robots to play poker, you know, the one with the forests inside the domes…..  Turns out I was far from the only nine-year-old to fall in love with Silent Running in 1972.

I warned the group, don’t watch it again.  You know it’s going to look cheesy compared to Blade Runner and Star Wars and you’re just going to end up being embarrassed to admit you ever liked it.  Keep the memory alive. Don’t ever watch it again.

A few years later I heard from one of my college friends.  She had watched the movie.  I was right.

In spite of this long held belief, when Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man came up on Kindle’s daily deal for 99 cents, I bought it.

The stories in The Illustrated Man are not as good as I remembered.  While some of them have stayed with me since I first read the collection, probably 35 years ago, I can’ argue that many of them are particularly good.  Kaleidoscope about a group of astronauts spinning off into space each in a different direction after the explosion of their rocket; The Rocket Man about a poor father who buys an old rocket to stage a fake trip into space for his children’s amusement; The Exiles about the ghosts of dead authors like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain who live on Mars with the spirits of all the characters they created hiding from a now bookless earth, all moved me profoundly the first time I read the book much in the same way Silent Running did.

This time around, I have to admit that while I still admire the ideas behind Ray Bradbury’s short stories, the only one in The Illustrated Man that I can really defend as being a very good short story is The Vedlt about two children who have become far too attached to their high tech television room.

All of Ray Bradbury’s work has a slightly dated feel to it now, but it always felt a little bit dated, didn’t it?  He spent his career in a stage of futuristic nostalgia, writing stories about people in the future who long for a world they left behind somewhere in their collective past.  One of the two episodes for The Twilight Zone Ray Bradbury wrote, I Sing the Body Electric is about a robot manufacturer who creates android grandmothers to provide comfort and care for children who have lost their own mother.  Technology so advanced it still remains yet to come used to create a grandmother figure from so far back in the past even people in the 1960’s only knew it as fictional.

The stories in The Illustrated Man are a lot like that.

It seems fitting to have read The Illustrated Man on a Kindle.

Here’s the trailer for Silent Running.  I swear to you that back in 1972, this movie was amazing.

 

I first ran this review back in 2013 on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. I’m still a fan, though I admit reading this does make he hesitate before going back to read more by Ray Bradbury. 

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4 Comments

  1. Yes, yes yes. The first paperback copy of Illustrated Man I read had that very same cover. The Veldt must have impressed me the most because it’s the only one I remember clearly. Wasn’t there another story about a planet where it rained all year except one day, and a kid got locked in the closet…? I will probably someday read it all again- but I’m more hesitant to view Silent Running again- which blew me away when I saw it in fifth grade! just the other day I was telling my husband about this movie but admitting in dismay it would probably come across as really cheesy.

    1. While I have been tempted, I’m going to keep my memory of Silent Running intact. That movie made me an evironmentalist more than anything I’ve ever seen or read has. It also made me very fond of robots in general. The story you mention is All Summer in a Day. It used to be in the 7th grade literature book I use with my students, but today’s kids laugh at the ending so I stopped using it. They still like The Veldt. That one is starting to come much too close to reality.

  2. Jeane says:

    I don’t remember the ending of that story, so I wonder why they laugh. Another good reason to read it again.

  3. I love this book. So amazing. Such original ideas.

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