‘It keeps on going,’ he said, guessing my thought. ‘All of me is Illustrated.’
The Illustrated Man is Ray Bradbury at his very best – sixteen startling tales that built on his breakout collection The Martian Chronicles and paved the way for his dystopian masterpiece Fahrenheit 451.
Its breathtaking unifying conceit is classic Bradbury: the narrator watches each story swirl magically to life on the tattooed body of a sinister carnival freak. Dancing across his skin are unsettling vignettes of life on Earth and in the depths of outer-space, from the present day through to distant futures. Soldiers on Venus struggle desperately to escape the maddening incessant rain; a family calmly prepares for the end of the world; children turn their virtual-reality nursery against their ineffectual parents ...
At first glance, this is science fiction rooted firmly in 1950s America – the paranoia of McCarthyism, apocalyptic fears of the Cold War, concern about colonial ambitions, racial segregation and the dangers of television. But as Bradbury’s stories rise before us, we find that the questions he asks, and the anxieties he explores, are universal.
Like the free-falling astronauts in ‘Kaleidoscope’, how might we assess our lives in the face of certain death? How would the brutally oppressed act if the boot was finally on ‘The Other Foot’? How can parents manage their children’s addiction to technology, protect them from the inevitable pains of growing up, or shelter them from the inequalities of life? What separates us from the existential crisis experienced in the farthest reaches of space in ‘No Particular Night or Morning’?
Bradbury battled to avoid being pigeon-holed as a sci-fi writer, demanding that the words ‘Science Fiction’ were removed from the first edition of The Illustrated Man. ‘Science’ and intergalactic settings provide only a backdrop for the true focus of these extraordinary stories – what Bradbury called the ‘odd corners’ of the human psyche. In probing these corners, Bradbury takes us far beyond the realms of traditional science fiction, warning us of the dangers of forgetting our fundamental humanity.
In her insightful introduction, Margaret Atwood explores Bradbury’s unique talent and how encountering his work in her formative years shaped her own writing. This dazzling edition also boasts a stunning metallic-cloth binding and stark illustrations by Marc Burckhardt, which float above the page as if emerging from the surface of a freckled skin.