The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury is coming up on its 65th year of publication. Amazing, isn’t it?
7 out of 10 stars. Like Martian Chronicles, some of the stories, most of the stories actually, are outdated and not that interesting. Probably because they’ve been copied by newer writers over and over again through the years. But a couple still stick out as scary as heck. And then there’s the illustrated man himself…
The Illustrated Man is actually a collection of short stories that are told by a man covered in tattoos. Each of his tattoos relates to a story, 18 in all, that he received from a time-traveling woman from the future who gave him all those tattoos. Every night the tattoos come to life and the only bare patch of skin on his body tells the future of the person who is watching.
My favorite story is Marionettes Inc. Two married men aged 35 years old named Braling and Smith hate being married. Not all the time, but most of the time. One night they go out and Smith is wondering how on earth Braling got away from his clingy wife. Then Braling shows him Braling II, a lifelike robot replica of himself from the company Marionettes Inc. Smith, of course, wants his own robot replica and orders one right away. Braling plans on going away to Rio for a month and reminds Smith to treat Braling II exactly as he would Braling so Mrs. Braling doesn’t get suspicious. What has transpired in the conversation between these two is a sort of backstory of their situations and their wives. Braling’s wife forced him into marriage pretending he had raped her and threatening him with prison. Smith’s wife, on the other hand, actually is a sweetheart of sorts but much too clingy. She literally must touch him constantly because this is how she expresses her affection and rather than asking her to stop, Smith has decided to get himself a robot replica. Such a shame. So Smith goes home and grabs the checkbook, ready to secretly write a check for $8,000 for the robot replica. To his surprise, he discovers that there is only $5,000 left in their account and that his wife Nettie has spent $10,000 to Marionettes Inc. 🙂 Nettie is actually a robot replica. The real Nettie left long ago. Across the street in Braling’s house, Braling prepares to put Braling II back in his box until he needs him again. Braling II tells Braling he’s fallen in love with his wife and he thinks he’ll buy a second ticket to take Mrs. Braling to Rio with him. Braling, of course, is getting a little scared, and Braling II tells him how he doesn’t want to go back in that box. He forces Braling into it instead. :0 Smith kind of got what he deserved, but Braling? That’s just not right.
My second favorite would be The Veldt. George and Lydia Hadley spend $30,000 on a Happy Life Home, a house that feeds them, clothes them, sings to them, rocks them, and does everything they want for them. Part of this is providing a realistic play environment in the nursery, whatever the children want, which currently is an African savanna complete with lions. :0 Their children Wendy and Peter aren’t about to give up their lions, no matter how much they frighten their parents, so inevitably Mom and Dad call in the higher power, the shrink. Aside from lions in the nursery, there are other issues the Happy Life Home has created for George and Lydia. George has taken to smoking and drinking during the day and taking sedatives at night so he can sleep. He does this because the house does everything he usually does like mowing and fixing and handywork. Lydia has become a nervous mess because she feels like a rotten mother. The house bathes and feeds her children and keeps them occupied. She never sees them. When she does they ignore her. So both parents are starting to rethink the Happy Life Home which is exactly what Wendy and Peter don’t want them doing. Wendy and Peter love it. It’s the best gift for two ten year-olds. Not. As the story slowly unravels it appears the kids are doing a number on their parents. George can’t change the program in the nursery away from the African veldt. It’s supposed to read his mind and produce that playground, but it won’t. When the kids come home from a carnival that night, they claim it’s different and when George walks inside it is different, a lush Indian garden. But he finds his wallet on the ground chewed up by lions, so he suspects the kids are up to something, so he sends them both to bed which makes them very angry. George locks up the nursery but that night the kids break in and the parents hear two screams that sound familiar, like their own voices. The shrink comes the next day and demands they immediately shut off the nursery and the entire house. He explains that the children now look to the house as their mother and father and their mother and father are mere annoyances. He tells them shut off the house and bring them to see him every day for the next year and they will recover. But that’s not what’s going to happen because the house doesn’t want to be shut off. And just as they are leaving the nursery, they find Lydia’s bloody scarf on the ground, covered in lion slobber. :0 So the good doctor (Dr. McLean) and George immediately go to the power grid and shut off the nursery. Then George goes around the house shutting off everything. The kids have a fit. Lydia finally talks George into turning the nursery back on for five minutes while they pack their bags to go on vacation. He does and that’s when they hear the kids’ voices calling them into the nursery. They step inside and the kids lock the door behind them. The lions come toward them and then there are those two familiar screams… The doctor comes back the following day to pick up the family for vacation and the children invite him into the nursery to watch the lions eat. It’s only then he realizes the parents are missing and vultures are hovering overhead.
The overall story that encompasses all the short stories is the story of the illustrated man. He’s out of work and meets a man on a hill, so he asks to spend the night. He tells the man that he met an old woman who suddenly was young and told him she was from the future. She tattooed him and those tattoos now change every night while he sleeps. They predict the future, he says, but the man is skeptical. So that night the illustrated man sleeps and as he sleeps, a different tattoo comes to life and tells a story. The last story starts to form a new tattoo on the illustrated man’s empty back, a story of the illustrated man strangling to death the man whose been watching all the stories…
7 out of 10 stars. Scary still.
Reviewed by Devin.