What better way to remember a beloved author than reading one of his works? I was so saddened to hear of Bradbury’s recent death because this man literally awoke the science fiction loving monster within me. As a freshman in high school I read The Martian Chronicles along with several short stories by Bradbury and have not stopped reading him since. Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Dandelion Wine have all been spectacular reads over the past decade and a half. So with his passing I thought I’d take it all the way back to the beginning with the very first story I ever read that he wrote – “The Veldt”.
What I didn’t realize (and how could I not have realized this?) was that “The Veldt” is actually the first story in a collection entitled, The Illustrated Man. Eighteen stories are woven together seamlessly. The illustrated man is literally that – covered in beautiful lifelike tattoos that come awake at night. They bring warnings of the future and one even shows a man (or woman) his/her death.
There are tales of race, gluttony, materialism, consumerism, and other bleak ‘isms’ that all involve space, many Bradbury’s beloved Mars. In one yarn, all African American people escaped Earth to colonize Mars and now, many years later, a white man is on his way to Mars for the first time – will the Martians exact revenge for the wrongs of the past or forgive this man his race’s crimes? And then there’s the previously mentioned “The Veldt” where the children’s virtual reality playroom becomes a little less virtual and a lot more reality. But perhaps my favorite of the collection (and one of the only positive, uplifting stories) tells the tale of the world’s best father.
Bradbury’s writing is his amazing imagination come to life. You really almost feel like a child again as you giddily read these wondrously fashioned creations. There’s just something so special about the vibrancy of his writing even when his subject matter is decidedly bleak. It’s like a painting you can’t take your eyes off of. His stories always have a message – a morale – but never feel heavy handed or indulgent. Or perhaps the magic of his writing just overshadows anything negative. I even forgive him his obvious flaw of writing terribly poor female characters. Often writers can’t get away with this, but something about Bradbury’s almost innocent style allows me to chalk his sexism up to being a product of his time (1940s/1950s). Don’t hate me for it! Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451 proves he can build a strong female!
The Illustrated Man will forever remain on my shelves and has only further solidified my inner Bradbury geekdom. He’s a science fiction cultural icon and deserving of every bit of praise he receives. The world lost a truly amazing visionary this year and he will be forever missed in the literary world. I beseech all of you to pick up some Bradbury soon and discover (or rediscover) what makes his writing so effortlessly timeless. This collection is a great place to start and will appeal to anyone who likes science fiction, twisty-turning plots, a story with a moral purpose, or just fantastic, poetic prose.
Reading back through what I just wrote and I sound like a complete lush gushing over her new lover. Seriously. I guess that’s how a favorite author should make you feel. Thanks again, Mr. Bradbury, for making me weak in the knees!