I read this book because I watched a television program, Criminal Minds, because it had Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings making his acting debut in it. Well, I watched enough of the program to see Greg Jennings appear, which was about half. And in that half, the program referred to The Illustrated Man twice. I’d passed over this book a couple times recently when picking over my to-read shelves for something quick to read. So when Greg Jennings, indirectly, encouraged me to read it, I complied.
Like The Martian Chronicles, the book creates a sort of wrapper into which Bradbury inserts his existing short stories. In this case, it’s a tattooed wanderer whose tattoos move and tell stories of the future at night. A camper encounters the illustrated man and watches the stories. In the beginning, we get some italicized addition to each story to keep the thread of the book going, but Bradbury abandons it by the end, although the epilogue returns to the frame story.
I haven’t read Bradbury in a number of years (before the blog, but within the last decade, I think I reread The Martian Chronicles). I liked him well enough in my youth, but in my middle age, I find him a little bleak. Many of the stories deal with death, aliens triumphing over men (or men triumphing over aliens with their consumer culture, still an indictment of humanity). Reading this, I cannot help think that Bradbury could have written Avatar since he shares a lot of thematic ground with Cameron. Maybe these themes were challenging sixty or seventy years ago when Bradbury was writing the stories, but now that they are a prevalent part of the modern mythology/culture, they lose resonance and fade really into the background. I need to rinse my science fiction palatte with some Heinlein soon.
A little note: in the television program, one of the people says that the illustrated man has a blank spot on his back to show the future in the film version of the book, but not the book. Untrue. The book does have that spot.