The Illustrated Man is a hodge podge of short stories that are connected by the overall themes of life in the future and man’s relationship with technology. They are held together with a clever framing story about a man who has been covered in tattoos by a woman who comes from the future. The tattoos actually come to life on his skin like a picture show, showing various people’s lives unfolding and coming to an end, and if you stare at a particular part on his back you can even see your own future (if you dare).
Like always, I was blown away by the imagination and visions of the future that Bradbury has brought to life. The inventions he comes up with (in startling detail) for future life amaze me, especially when you think about the fact that this was published in 1951. He takes the holodeck one step further with a nursery that brings whatever you’re feeling or thinking about to life in “The Veldt,” where an African safari becomes far too real for two parents when the house which holds it is threatened to be unplugged. Sun Domes, complete with small individual balls of happy inviting sunshine, are invented to combat the never-ending rain on the planet of Venus which drives men to insanity after a matter of days (it’s like Chinese water torture, always being pelted by raindrops and never being able to sleep) in “The Long Rain.” Bradbury hints at the frightening and extreme future of the research and production of various weapons of war (super-plus hydrogen bombs and “tubes of leprosy, bubonic, typhoid, tuberculosis, and then the great explosion”) in “The Fox and the Forest.” It kind of makes me happy that I won’t be alive to see the far-off future because if Bradbury’s right (and I wouldn’t doubt that he is) we’re going to blow ourselves and our entire planet to smithereens via atomic warfare. And I’m sure that’s not going to be pretty.
Almost all of the stories deal with death and loss, so this was much more depressing than The Martian Chronicles. That’s not a bad thing at all though because I happen to enjoy reading depressing things. There’s also the recurring subject of man getting ahead of himself and not appreciating what he’s had all along. In “The Fox and the Forest,” people from the year 2155 vacation in the past because they’ve never experienced anything like our food and sights and smells (because the world’s gone to crap). They would gorge themselves on assortments of booze and cigarettes, trying to taste and feel everything they possibly can within their allotted vacation time. It makes you appreciative of the life you have right now – at least we’re not in a despotic miserable future where everything is about war and death is all around you. Bradbury’s really good at making you feel like your life isn’t nearly as shitty as it could be. And with such beautiful writing (I love his descriptions and the precision and authenticity of his characters), Bradbury’s books are quite comforting indeed. They probably shouldn’t be though since they’re generally about how we should be more aware of where we’re heading and take action to improve our future, but oh well, I <3 him.
Ooh, a fun bit of trivia for you: apparently Elton John’s song “Rocket Man” (one of my favorite songs ever) was inspired by the short story “The Rocket Man,” which was also one of my favorites from this book.