This is one of my favourite books. I bought a new edition recently, having got rid of my old edition as the pages had turned too brown to read easily. So I’ve read this fantastic book for a fourth time. It’s science fiction, but characteristic of Ray Bradbury’s lyrical style. The stories are not about the science, but about family and relationships in the context of new inventions.
A collection of sixteen short stories, they are bound together by the concept of ‘the illustrated man’, who was tattooed by a witch and every night the pictures on his body come alive to show these tales of the future. Every story is excellent. Most of them have a good twist. They’re all beautifully written, sometimes sinister, sometimes bittersweet, with an element of irony. Themes include the power that children have over adults, the effects of space travel on mental health and the problems which occur when you have a robot made of yourself. Special mentions to these particular stories: ‘Usher II’ (which has some themes prefiguring Bradbury’s subsequent novel Fahrenheit 451), ‘The Other Foot’ (a powerful story in the context of race relations) and ‘The Long Rain’ (a tale of despair and hope in the jungles of Venus).
Although the book was first published in 1952, it feels more modern than that to me. It hasn’t dated much, apart from some obvious things such as the years mentioned (apparently the world will end in 1969), the characters’ names, the preoccupation with ‘atomic war’ and the lack of female astronauts. It has aged well, compared to other science fiction of the era. I have read several of Bradbury’s works and this stands out as the best one.
This edition was published in 2008 by Harper Voyager.