Literary Review: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Title: The Illustrated Man
Author: Ray Bradbury
Format: Audiobook

Over the last weekend I listened to the audiobook version of The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. This was given to me as a recommendation mainly because I was asked to provide ideas of a scripted series with a bit of a science-fiction touch in the vein of Serenity/Firefly and the Illustrated Man and Metamorpheses were recommended as a basis for what the creator was looking for the stage.

I didn’t know what to expect from this series when I sat down to listen to it while I worked. Whatever I was expecting, what I ended up getting definitely wasn’t it. The best way to describe this series of works is that every short story dives into a different aspect of the human psyche while setting it in a more science-fiction, futuristic environment. So in all honesty a lot of these short stories do not necessarily have a need for a science-fiction, fantasy component, but it does help to drive the purpose of the story across.

Because there were so many short stories, I’ll go through a handful that actually caught my attention:
– “The Veldt”: This short story seems to be Mary Poppins meets Star Trek’s the Holodeck. Parents with very busy lives have a high tech nursery built into their home to keep their children happy. If I were to take this to the present time, I would say substitute the high tech nursery with video games, computers, television, etc. This story (to me) is more of a cautionary tale for parents in regards to parenting their children or letting technology to become the parents. I understand that we all live such busy lives that it becomes very easy to just let the children sit in front of the television and have them watch cartoons or let them play video games, but sometimes kids just needs to get out and be with other people or spend time together with the parents. Nothing beats true parenting than the parents themselves.

– “Kaleidoscope” and “The Rocket Man”: These two short stories seem to strike me as a midlife crisis kind of story. The first is about an astronaut laments on not making more out of his life and as he and his crew members are driven towards insanity when facing death head on, the narrator begs that he would be become something worthwhile for someone else. While the second is about an astronaut that is constantly on the go, in between trips to the space he comes home and tries to create a home life. However, he finds himself yearning for the reaches of the space and the stars and takes one more trip outer space with the promise to his wife and son that when he returns it would be to stay. Both seem to echo the mentality of putting off doing something for tomorrow, as opposed to finding the time to do it now, though in two rather different ways. How often have we looked at our lives and asked the question: what have I done with my life really? It’s been how long but I haven’t accomplished anything. I know I did that once before as evidence to my “bucket list” post, but the truth is we have done a lot in our lives, it’s simply a matter of perspective. What are you wanting to do with your life that you’ve been waiting on as opposed to achieving now? Why are you sitting there reading this instead of going out there and getting it? GO! =D

– “The Other Foot”: No matter what race, nationality, heritage you are, chances are high that your ancestors have at some point in time have had to fight some sort of injustice places against them, be it racial, gender, anything. So what happens when all of those minorities founded their own society far from the prejudices of the society from where they fled from only for the bearers of their old life to follow them on hands and knees begging for forgiveness. Would you crucify them as they did your forebearers, or would you forgive? I really enjoyed this short story because it takes that question and keeps you guessing until the final moment of how a society that was once oppressed answers that particular circumstance.

– “The Man”: How would you respond if you were to come upon a society that seem to be in a state of utopia due to the coming of an enigmatic stranger. When upon further inquiry you start to believe that this to be Jesus or someone like Him (though technically since the gentleman is never specifically described or named leaving whom exactly it is open for other religious personas). However the catch is that this figure had just moved on and no one knows when they will return if at all. Would you stay with the society in the blind faith of meeting this enigma or would you move on and try to find them? I found this to be an interesting way to really look at and question ‘what would you do?’

– “The Last Night of the World”: One thing that struck me about this piece is that what the couple did when the end of the world is simply hours away… I found myself thinking, ‘I could see myself doing that’ maybe with the addition of just making sure of being there with loved ones. But other than that I am not quite sure what I would do other than what I would normally do every other day of the week. I mean if the end was so near why panic? There’s no point… Just live.

– “The Exiles”: What I found to be rather interesting is that this particular short story seems to predict what has been happening lately in regards to literature. With parents’ desire to “protect” their children from books that “promote” witchcraft, violence, sex, etc… All the characters (in this short story) were exiled to another planet, and in the process their creators were re-animated in hopes to finding a way to save their creations. Personally I never understood the desire to protect children from literature, when I see literature as a way to promote imagination, to promote the desire to seek out the world beyond their bedrooms. Then again, I am also the type of person that sees “banning” as a way to promote citizens to seek out the black market and wanting the “banned goods” even more. Parents wanting to keep their children safe, overly coddling them, is stunting their growth (in my opinion) as opposed to letting them grow up and find their own… and by banning literature, movies, etc from their children they are inadvertantly forcing their children to stay “average” and destroying the joy and the colors of this world. Reminiscent of this short story: Harrison Bergeron.

– “Marionettes, Inc.” – How often have you joked, “I wish I could have a clone of myself, that way I could get more done!” This short story dives a little into that possibility, how could life be if you had a clone that was a perfect replica of you, right down to your personality. You place your clone into your everyday life, while you are able to explore everything that life has to give to you. However, did you ever think of the consequences? Like the possibility that your clone would love your life, the life that you desperately tried to escape from, to the point that it would forcefully replace you in your own life and take it for their own? I doubt you thought about that, who would? It’s a dangerous thing, wanting a clone, especially when deception is part of the reason that a clone is desired.

Again and again the stories seem to reveal a piece of the human psyche that most of us never really thought about. In some cases they seem to reveal that life is not as it seems when technology becomes a more prominent piece of parenting, or lives in general. For me, it was more of a re-enforcement of what I already know, and in the rare case, gives me a new train of thoughts for certain ideas that I didn’t really think about before.

Why I say this? I may be a fan of science-fiction, I may be surrounded by technology in my day job and my evening blogging, but in the end of the day I prefer a good old fashioned book over an audio book. I would prefer talking to someone face to face as opposed to over the phone or the computer chats, or email. I prefer doing what I can to enjoy my life now because quite honestly you never know when tomorrow will never come. Sometimes I feel that people in general forget that we have an end for our lives, an end that is completely and totally inevitable that we take life for granted… but that’s a different story.

One day I’ll go through and write my thoughts for every short story, but for right now this is all that you’ll get. =D

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