BOOK REVIEW: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated ManThe Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of 18 science fiction short stories by Ray Bradbury, featuring: space travel, androids, time travel, and alien invasions. However, many of the stories use science-fiction – space travel most extensively — to investigate down-to-earth subjects such as: religion, marital relationships, war, and race relations. The fact that the collection deals in everyday subject matter allows it to retain its relevancy. The sci-fi is definitely dated, from the fact that “Martian” is used as a synonym for alien to the Cold War themes, but the stories are still worth reading because they are well-crafted and continue to be thought-provoking.

The stories of this collection are integrated by the titular story. The Illustrated Man is a character who had his body covered in tattoos to continue his employment with the carnival, but the witch who tattooed him made shape-shifting images that told stories. The story of “The Illustrated Man” is the last in the collection, but there’s a prologue that sets it up. It’s not a novel-in-stories, however, as the stories aren’t connected — other than being collected into a universe of this character’s flesh. The end of several stories feature a quick reference to the Illustrated Man narrative arc, but generally there’s no other connective tissue to the stories.

Here is a brief overview of the stories:

“The Veldt”: spoiled kids are given access to a technology that goes one step beyond virtual reality to what might be called mentally constructed reality. They create an African savanna, and things go awry.

“Kaleidoscope”: An accident causes astronauts to be scattered into space, not dying immediately, but knowing the limited resources of their spacesuits will not last long. This is among the more popular stories in the collection.

“The Other Foot”: A white man is forced to take refuge on a planet that minorities had long-ago been relocated to, because now a war has made the Earth uninhabitable. The story deals with the tension between those who are willing to welcome him and those who think he should be treated as they once were.

“The Highway”: A man living and working near a desolate stretch of highway meets a rare visitor who tells him that war is upon them. One of the Cold War end-of-the-world scenario stories.

“The Man”: The Captain of a spaceship is disappointed to find that none of the locals come to see them when they land. Little does he know, they were just visited by a Messianic figure the day before. The tension is between the non-believing, skeptical Captain and one of his men who is a true believer. A commentary on faith and belief.

“The Long Rain”: Space explorers are demoralized by the unceasing rain on a planet they are exploring, a rain that threatens to send them into madness.

“The Rocket Man”: The son of a space traveler wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but doesn’t know how hazardous a life it is.

“The Last Night of the World”: This story asks one to contemplate what if one knew it was the last night before doomsday. Another Cold War-era sci-fi piece that hinges on atomic apocalypse.

“The Exiles”: A crew of space explorers is falling to inexplicable illness. This story has a great deal of literary allusion with Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe, and Charles Dickens each playing a part. Like Bradbury’s most famous novel, the story considers the issue of censorship.

“No Particular Night or Morning”: This story considers the question of how one knows anything is true. It does so through the lens of a spaceship crewman afflicted with solipsistic delusions – or so his crew-mates assume.

“The Fox and the Forest”: In this time travel story, a couple has escaped a dystopian future into Mexico, circa 1938, but the authorities of their time don’t intend to let them get away.

“The Visitor”: The story of a man with powerful psychic abilities who is coveted by competing factions.

“The Concrete Mixer”: A Martian pacifist is forced to participate in an invasion of Earth, only to find that it is an ill-advised endeavor for reasons entirely different from he’d thought. The story revolves around the centrality of materialism and consumerism in American culture.

“Marionettes, Inc.”: One man gets a look-alike android to cope with a wife who hates him, and another gets one to contend with a wife who is smotheringly needy.

“The City”: Explorers find that the abandoned city they’ve been sent to explore isn’t as free of sentience as they’d thought.

“Zero Hour”: Alien invaders find an unexpected ally in the impressionable youth.

“The Rocket”: A man wants his family to see the stars, but lacks the resources to make the dream come true. So, he gets creative.

“The Illustrated Man”: As referenced above, this story tells the tale of carnival tattoo’d man whose body-art mysteriously tells stories through its images, with special focus on two special designs.

I’ve never found a Bradbury work I didn’t like, and this one is no exception. The writing is beautiful. The story-telling is skillful, and, even when the sci-fi details are dated, there are themes that remain relevant. I’d highly recommend this collection for readers of sci-fi, particularly those who like classic sci-fi.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Cat’s Pajamas by Ray Bradbury

The Cat's PajamasThe Cat’s Pajamas by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of 20 short stories by Ray Bradbury written between 1946 and 2004. Bradbury was the master. Besides his imaginative gift for storytelling, he was a torch-bearer for language that was both beautifully crafted and highly readable. Bradbury often used words poetically but without detracting from story. I believe he did so through sparing and careful use. I also appreciate the way Bradbury smoothly moved between genres, and the fact that his stories could have a moral without being moralistic.

I’ll list the stories in this collection with just a few words about each.

 

1.) “Chrysalis”: An unlikely friendship develops. A story about race.

 

2.) “The Island”: The dangers of isolation. Tension skillfully ratcheted up.

 

3.) “Sometime Before the Dawn”: Why does the neighbor cry late at night?

 

4.) “Hail to the Chief”: What if Senators wagered America at an Indian casino?

 

5.) “We’ll Just a CT Natural”: This is one of my favorites, but it doesn’t have a complex story or involve clever sci-fi elements. It’s just a woman waiting for a visit from a man who she used to nanny, but who’s made it big as a writer. Two simple questions keep one glued to this story. Will he show up? If not, how will she handle it?

 

6.) “Olé, Orozco! Siqueiros, Sí!”: This is a commentary on what is art in the modern art scene.

 

7.) “The House”: A couple buys a fixer-upper, but there are mixed feelings between them.

 

8.) “The John Wilkes Booth / Warner Bros / MGM / NBC Funeral Train”: How time travel would spawn a history-entertainment complex.

 

9.) “A Careful Man Dies”: A hemophiliac author who’s writing a tell-all meets his match.

 

10.) “The Cat’s Pajamas”: A couple of lonely cat people vie for ownership of a stray that they happen upon simultaneously.

 

11.) “Triangle”: As in, “love triangle.” A take on the story of X loves Y, but Y is indifferent to X; while Z loves X, but X is indifferent to Z.

 

12.) “The Mafioso Cement-Mixing Machine”: It’s a metaphorical cement mixer, but it’s useful for—as a mobster might say—“takin’ out da trash.”

 

13.) “The Ghosts”: The children are enchanted with them, but their father wants to drive them off. The difference between how children and adults see the natural world, in a nutshell.

 

14.) “Where’s My Hat, What’s the Hurry”: A man goes through his little black book to find a woman more responsive to the “city of love” than his wife has been.

 

15.) “The Transformations”: This is another story about race and walking in the shoes of another.

 

16.) “Sixty-six”: This is a prime example of the genre-fluidity of Bradbury. It’s a murder mystery, but not just a murder mystery.

 

17.) “A Matter of Taste”: Human space explorers travel to a distant world and meet a species that is wise, benevolent, helpful, but they can’t get past the alien’s creepy appearance.

 

18.) “I Get the Blues When it Rains”: The fickle nature of nostalgia.

 

19.) “All My Enemies Are Dead”: A man tries to console a friend who believes it’s time to die upon seeing the obituary of the last of his enemies.

 

20.) “The Completist”: Having everything may include things one doesn’t want.

 

I’d highly recommend this collection for readers of short fiction. While some of the stories are over sixty years old, they’ve aged well.

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BOOK REVIEW: Hellboy: Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola

Hellboy: The Midnight CircusHellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Hellboy meets Something Wicked This Way Comes. In this issue, Hellboy—as a boy—runs away from the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) and stumbles upon a circus that operates only through the wee hours of the morning. An acknowledgement of Ray Bradbury suggests that the use of a creepy, nocturnal circus of the netherworld was not a coincidence but a purposive homage.

The comic also borrows elements of the story of Pinocchio, which is explicitly referenced in the story line.

The comic is well-written and drawn. Those who don’t like it will likely find their dislike rooted in the comic’s ending. The title character doesn’t have a great deal of agency—i.e. he has little influence on the resolution of the story arc. That said, given that Hellboy is a boy in this issue and that his upbringing as a human boy by the Professor is credited with his ability to refrain from regression to his demon-like nature, there’s not a lot that he could probably do without straining credulity.

I enjoyed this book.

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BOOK REVIEW: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way ComesSomething Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bradbury creeps us out by showing us a carnival through the eyes of two young boys. The month is October, and the carnival arrives in the dead of night. Everything about this story is meant to make one ill at ease, but at first we don’t know they boys minds are just playing tricks on them. The author gradually reveals the carnival is pure evil.

The boys, best friends, end up in over their heads, and being pursued by the carnies. Believing his son’s fanciful tales of time-bending carousels and a hall of mirrors that distorts more than light, a father plays a key role in the battle to restore normality to their town.

The strength of this book is Bradbury’s use of language. The book exudes creepiness, and in doing so captures just the right tone.

The weakness is its ending (which I will not get into to avoid spoilers.) It falls a little flat, particularly given the great build up.

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10 of My Favorite Quotes on Writing

Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. –Kurt Vonnegut

 

Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for. –Mark Twain

 

The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are.  –Ray Bradbury

 

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. –Elmore Leonard

 

The first draft of anything is shit.—Ernest Hemingway.

 

Omit needless words. –William Strunk

 

The only rule for writing I have is to leave it while I’m still hot… –William Faulkner

 

Whoever wants to tell a story of a sainted grandmother, unless you can find some old love letters, and get a new grandfather?  –Robert Penn Warren

 

When you write the thing through once, you find out what the end is. Then you can go back to the first chapter and put in a lot of those foreshadowings. –Flannery O’Connor

 

As far as I’m concerned the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning.  –Neil Gaiman