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The Illustrated Man Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Posted by j128 in Science Fiction.
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The Illustrated Man

"The Illustrated Man"

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury is a collection of short stories published in 1951 and supported by the frame story of the Illustrated Man, a vagrant who has had tattoo work on his body. His tattoos tend to alarm people, thus the reason for constantly wandering, and always having to wear garments that cover his entire body even on the hottest of days – such a day when the narrator meets the Illustrated Man.

Summary

Prologue – The Illustrated Man’s tattoos are very life-like, which is one of the reasons of the alarm, and secondly at night the tattoos begin to move all over the man’s body and they all tell their own stories set far in the future – and they are true stories, things that really do happen at one time or other. The person who did the man’s tattoos was a witch and the Illustrated Man strongly believes she was from the future – how else could she have known these things were going to happen?

The narrator watches the tattoos as the Illustrated Man sleeps in the night and the stories begin.

The Veldt – Jack and Lydia are a couple who are both well off and they have two children, Peter and Wendy. They live in a is futuristic high-tech house and they haven’t a thing to do at all for everything is done for them from housework to cleaning their own bodies. There is one room, called the nursery, which is designed for their two children to help them towards recovery, as they are neurotic, and their psychologist recommended it. The nursery is a room specially designed to adapt its interior suited to the children’s thoughts. However, things become awry when the parents become suspicious due to the constant screaming coming from the nursery and they discover an African predator environment. Everything is so real from the burning sun above to the lions feeding on their recent hunt that they are freaked out and after a while Jack calls their psychologist, who says that the nursery has become far too much out of hand and must be shut down. The father does so but not without his children having a crying tantrum and Lydia telling Jack to be a bit less relentless – how could he be so cruel? This all happens as Jack continues throughout the rest of the house shutting everything off and he explains that they are starting life anew for the better and they shall be having a little vacation. Lydia is persistent about the nursery being turned on one last time and finally, her husband consents and the children stop their tears and happily go back into the nursery but for a minute only. As the children are in the nursery, the parents are alone in their room to dress and get ready as the psychologist will be arriving in half an hour to assist them with moving. But before they can do any of this, Peter calls and says they must see something. The parents rush down but find no one. Becoming scared, they enter the nursery, and the door is shut and locked behind them from none other then their children. Jack tries to negotiate with his children to open the door but all attempts are fruitless and as the lions close in, he and Lydia realize in their last moments whose screams they had been hearing.

Kaleidescope – A spaceship has just exploded due to a malfunction and the astronauts fall to their demise. It centres round one particular bitter astronaut who sees he has done nothing at all – nothing worthwhile, that is – before any of this happened. The other astronauts, several miles apart, converse with each other till their deaths. Finally, the centred astronaut wishes his life would be worth something for someone else and his wish miraculously comes true: he appears as a shooting star when he comes into contact with Earth’s atmosphere as he is incinerated.

The Other Foot – For twenty years Mars has been inhabited solely by black people during the time when the white men began to start an atomic war. Now news is coming round that white men are coming to Mars after all these years. Willie, a man who is full of hate for the white men, tells his wife who is opposite to him that they will make the white men second-class and force them to do all the work that the white men forced black people to do. This fails when an old white man tells that just now the war has ended and hardly anything is left on Earth – all of the cities and towns were bombed, nothing is left. Willie sees his foolishness in all of his previous actions and everything that had been set up for the white men is hastily destroyed. They begin anew, old hurts forgiven.

The Highway – In rural Mexico, some people live on the highway and are constantly seeing thousands of people within their cars speeding all in one direction. They do not understand the reason for this and continue on with their lives, unconcerned. One day, after getting some water for the last car filled with four women and one man, the driver, he discovers from the car’s passengers that a nuclear war is starting – the end of the world. After the car speeds off, the man is left wondering, what is the world?

The Man – A spaceship has landed with space explorers and come upon a planet with inhabitants living in a healthy state of bliss. The captain is quite irritated that the population doesn’t even notice their landing, and when Martin, the lieutenant comes back, he says that yesterday a man visited them and this man performed miracles – a blind man’s sight was restored, the mayor’s crippled arm made good as new, etc. The captain can’t believe any of this and wants scientific proof for everything, which the population can’t provide. Their only evidence are their words. Martin wants to stay on this planet, it is what he has been looking for a long time, but he hadn’t realized this what he had been trying to find. The captain says Martin is a fool and that this man is a trick of either two men who must have beaten their team and stole their glory! However, it proves not to be so when a rocket lands on the planet sometime later and the last survivor, near the brink of death, gasps to the captain and Martin that they landed in a cosmic storm and everyone is dead. Soon after he dies as well. The captain then says to Martin, supposing this man is the man that everyone has wished to meet for centuries since his death – a religious figure, possibly Jesus, though his name is never mentioned and is never given because he explains to the planet’s inhabitants that his name will be different on every planet so he has no need of a name. The captain decides to visit every other planet until he meets this man and Martin and a few of the other volunteers stay behind, but not without the captain for the last time calling them all fools.

The Long Rain – Four astronauts, originally six, but two of them have died, are stranded on the planet Venus where it rains heavily and without stopping for a second. They attempt to travel through the Venusian rain to find shelter at one of the sun domes, where there will be warmth, protection from the rain, and food, and in the centre of the dome is a large florescent sun. On the way they encounter an electric storm after they come across their rocket, which they had left behind earlier with two of their dead men. The storm comes towards where they are and they run away from the rocket and throw themselves down, hoping that the storm will strike their rocket instead. The storm comes and does strike the rocket, the two dead men near the rocket, and one of the living men, who, despite the others’ warnings, stood and ran away, scared to death. They find the sun dome, but it is destroyed. They go to the other sun dome, which is not too far off, but not without losing another comrade, who becomes insane due to the unrelenting rythme of the rain, and looks up at the sky breathing in the rain until he drowns. They continue onwards. Then another of the crew, Simmons, slowly becomes insane also because of the same reason the other man became insane, and he stops and sits on a rock, telling the captain to continue to the sun dome. He’ll shoot himself once the captain is out of sight. Unwillingly, the captain does so, he doesn’t even hear the gunshot, and just as he feels he wants to give up as well, he sees a glimmer of yellow, he continues, and discovers the sun dome. And there is food, fresh clothes, and the warm florescent sun.

The Rocket Man – Told from the viewpoint of Doug, the son of an astronaut, he tells the story about his father, how he is always away most of the time because of his job, and thus has little time to spend with his wife or his son. He hears the father come home and go to sleep with his wife and while they sleep, Doug takes his father’s suitcase, which contains his father’s uniform. The son studies it and finds all sorts of space dust on it and takes a sample, then as quietly as possible puts it back in his parents’ bedroom while they still sleep. While he is at home, Doug’s father tells him not to be like his father – not to be a rocket man (or astronaut). The father explains that the problem is that he always feels trapped. Whenever he’s up in space he wants to be back home, but then when he is home he wants to be back with the stars. Finally the father makes a decision: he will go on one last space flight and then he will stay home forever. He promises. Next morning he goes for the last time for another three months. Sadly, he never makes it home – a messenger comes with a telegram and Doug says that his father didn’t die in Mars, or Venus, or Jupiter, or Saturn. He crashed in the sun. After that, the son and his mother’s schedule entirely changed. Doug and his mother would sleep during the day and have breakfast and lunch during the night and finally at six in the morning they would have dinner. Only on days that it rained would they go on walks, as his mother promised that should her husband ever crash into any of the planets or Moon, she would never look in that direction.

The Fire Balloons – Two priests go to Mars, as missionaries, to enlighten the Martians of old sins. While there he discovers the natives are actually the blue light of pure energy and as they have no material form they cannot commit sins and do not need redemption. So the two Fathers go to the settlement to build a church, which will be of real use for the others, not the pure energy forms.

The Last Night of the World – This is a very interesting story in contrast to other stories concerning the end of the world. Everyone has a dream, about the end of the world, and with this knowledge they go on with their daily lives and continue with their normal routines of going to work, doing dishes, taking children to bed, et cetera. At last they go to sleep for the last time.

The Exiles – In the year 2100 or so books containing themes of horror and the paranormal – werewolves, witches, ghosts, were banned and burned on Earth. The holidays such as Halloween and Christmas were banned as well. Classic authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and others were exiled on the planet Mars, only living through the remaining copies of their books. Santa Claus also lives on Mars, a very withered old man barely alive. A few astronauts are going to Mars with the last copies of these classic authors. There on Mars they will burn them and all the authors will die forever, never to be reborn.

No Particular Night or Morning – The story takes place in outer space and it is centred around a man, named Hitchcock, who seems to be twisted as he has these ideas that one only live in the present, i.e. when he’s in New York, Boston doesn’t exist and vise versa. He tells his friend Clemens that space is simply nothing on top, nothing on the bottom, and a lot of empty nothings between. Through a small series of unusual events, Hitchcock is finally lost forever in space as he took himself out after dressing into a spacesuit, lost and falling in outer space, “on his way to no particular night and no particular morning.”

The Fox and the Forest – In the year 2155 A.D. war is upon the world and a couple, after hearing of a vacation available from a company called “Travel in Time, Inc.” where one may travel into the past escape in attempt from the war into the year 1938 in Mexico, but they are patiently and slowly being pursued by a government agent trying to force them to go back to 2155 against their bidding. The husband agrees to go back to the future, as long as his wife is safe and left behind. The agent, named Simms, agrees, and tells the husband to meet him in the plaza in exactly ten minutes. Ten minutes later, Simms is run over by the husband whose car had gone out of control, as he explains to his wife after the incident. The couple decide to stay with a director and his film crew, while the party drink martinis, the director suggests the husband’s wife to be an actress: enter Hollywood. And how about starring in a film set in a war period, about a couple like them, and how about set in the year 2155? The director continues on and on and as he does so the entire tale folds exactly as the couple had lived it. Suddenly the manager begins banging on the door and threatens to call the police if they do not open the door. There is a flash and possibly a minute later the manager opens the door and finds the room unbelievably empty.

The Visitor – Mars is used as a quarantine for people with deadly illnesses. And these people with their diseases are pretty much left to stay on Mars till their deaths, never again to visit Earth. One day, a young man is dropped off on Mars, who has the ability to form thought transferance and telepathy. This is a wonderful thing for the exiles, who are able to live in all sorts of places within their minds – New York City, Greece, wherever they want to go. Unfortunately the exiles begin to argue over the young man and consequently when a fight breaks out the young man is killed unintentionally.

The Concrete Mixer – Martians prepare to invade the planet Earth and sieze control… Except for one particular Martian, who is the protagonist of the story, and his name is Ettil Vrye. He has been reading Earth books documenting similar invasions upon Earth and all have been defeated by “a young man, usually lean, usually alone, usually Irish, named Mick or Rick, or Jick or Bannon.” Despite Ettil’s protests and after almost being burned alive, he is forced to participate in the invasion. However, the entire fleet is surprised when they discover Earth has given up war: the people have recently destroyed all their atom bombs, etc. and so have no weapons to defend themselves. They accept the Martians as their victors, though Ettil still remains suspicious. The rocket carrying the fleet and Ettil land in the United States of America and are given a welcome speech and the American ladies take several of the Martians and show them Earthling everday living. Finally Ettil meets a filmmaker, or more properly, approached by a filmmaker who is awfully intent on making a film about the Martian invasion. Ettil discovers that the filmmaker’s name is Rick. After this meeting, Ettil is left pondering the situation, and as the story closes he is being chased by a car full of young people pointing and laughing at the Martian – Ettil.

Marionettes, Inc. – Two middle-aged men, named Smith and Braling, find themselves in conflicting marriages. Braling’s problem is that his wife never lets him go out and she is nervous and very authoritive. Smith, however, has a wife who is madly in love with him and constantly demands his presence. The two men both long for some personal freedom and they talk of a utopian-sounding place called Rio. But pining as they are for their freedom, they endure their seperate situations considering the responsibilities of their selfish motivations. Braling surprises Smith, though, when Smith sees Braling in the upstairs window while at the same time Braling is standing next to him. Braling explains. He recently purchased an android available through an illegal company called Marionettes, Inc. and this android duplicates Braling himself in every possible way. Smith sees it as a swell idea and Braling gives Smith the business card. A conflict arises when the android Braling expresses emotions towards Braling’s wife. Smith says good night and goes off back home, excited about the prospect of Marionettes, Inc. When Smith comes home he shockingly discovers he himself has been tricked by a marionette wife after he hears the familiar tick-tick-tick in his “wife’s” chest. Meanwhile, Braling proceeds to lock up his marionette as he does not need a duplicate at the moment. Further conflict arises when the android Braling express wishes not to be locked up in the basement and the android repeats his emotions towards Mrs Braling. Towards the end the android Braling reveals its plans to travel to Rio with Mrs. Braling and to leave the human Braling in the basement. At last we come to Mr. and Mrs. Braling’s room and someone kisses Mrs. Braling. Surprised, Mrs. Braling wakes up and says something along the lines of, “You haven’t done that in a long time.” Then, whomever kissed her, either the human Braling or the android says, “We’ll see about that.”

The City – Of all the stories contained within The Illustrated Man, this is an absolute chiller. A rocket expedition from Earth lands on a seemingly unpopulated planet and there is only a city, absolutely bare or is it? One of the crew instantly picks up a dislike for the City and expresses his desire to go back to the rocket, whereas the captain wishes to continue to explore. The poor man is absolutely correct about going back to the rocket: the City is apparently contains some sort of high artificial intelligence and it has been waiting for the arrival of humans for twenty thousand years, to act out its revenge since humans, long before recorded history, wiped out their culture with biological weaponry. After the City captures, kills, and examines the astronauts (by extremely gruesome ways) they rebuild the corpses and use them as robots to issue a biological attack on Earth.

Zero Hour – Children across the America are engrossed in a new game, called “Invasion”. The parents think it is absolutely adorable and don’t really think much of it until they find out in an awful way – when it’s too late, that it wasn’t a game at all. Aliens chose their children as allies and to initiate an alien invasion through the children.

The Rocket – Set in Mexico, this is the story of Fiorello Bodoni and his family who are in the depths of unimaginable poverty and Mr. Bodoni works as a junkyard man. Despite his poverty he manages to save $3,000, enough to send one member of his family on a rocket to visit outer space – the absolute dream, the absolute journey of a lifetime. Conflict arises when nobody can decide who should go. Mr Bodoni solves the problem, though, when he uses all of his money to buy a mock-up of a rocket and the aftermath is concluded by sending his family on a journey to Mars.

Epilogue – The narrator has seen the tattoos’ stories and then his eyes wander over to the bare patch on the Illustrated Man’s left shoulder blade, where an image of the person the Illustrated Man has been with for a while shows up, usually in an hour. The image of the person shows the person’s entire life and how they shall die, man or woman. The narrator’s face appears on this very spot and as he watches, he sees his life ended by the Illustrated Man’s hands round his neck. Frightened out of his life, he dashes off the porch: away from the Illustrated Man.

I listened to this book on audio cassette from Recorded Books, unabridged, and narrated by Paul Hecht, who is a truly wonderful narrator and captures all of the stories’ essences.

There is also a copy of The Illustrated Man in book form published in June 1997 with a new introduction by the author. It is available from HarperCollins Publishers.

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