I’ve been reading at what feels like a pretty good pace, and so it is challenge time once again! This is #91 on the list, The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury published in 1951.
This is the second book in a row that made me wonder how the heck it ended up on this list. Unlike the last one, this one isn’t mediocre or out-of-genre. It just isn’t a novel. The Illustrated Man is a collection of short stories, tied together loosely through the construct of the titular illustrated man, whose moving tattoos tell stories that play out every night. The illustrated man concept is a neat wrapper, but it didn’t fit all that well with the general theme of space stories over most of the book. Overall it was enjoyable, but this book feels weird to have on this list. Although now I’m really interested in a “top 100 sci-fi short story collections” list because I would read the hell out of that.
Since it is a collection it is a bit difficult to pin down any general thoughts on this one. I enjoy Bradbury’s style and there’s some nice thought-provoking tales in here. Some of the writing feels dated at times, and occasionally suffers from the curse of “this feels really cliched now but it probably wasn’t as much of a cliche when it was written”. Many of the stories are also very grim, so much so that this collection could instead be called “Many new and awful ways to die in space.” Even when the content is harsh the stories are usually thoughtful, and often contain a humanity that often gets lost in short fiction like this. Too many times short stories can be more about the twist or “aha!” moment than about characters or places, but some of these stories combat that nicely. One of my favorites from this collection is about a family where the father is a spacer and the mother acts like he is already dead to shield herself from what she believes is his inevitable death out in the stars. There’s still a twist but by the time you get there you at least understand a bit about this family and how they survive with each other.
TL;DR: A nice collection of Bradbury’s short stories, in which many people die in space.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
Rating: 4/5 stars
Verdict: I’d recommend it if you like Bradbury or sci-fi in general from that era. With lots of stories you will likely find something to enjoy.
Next up: The Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock