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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Illustrated Man

The Illustrated Man - Ray Bradbury
"... he was a riot of rockets and fountains and people, in such intricate detail and color that you could hear the voices murmuring small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body. When his flesh twitched, the tiny mouths flickered, the tiny green-and-gold eyes winked, the tiny pink hands gestured. There were yellow meadows and blue rivers and mountains and stars and suns and planets spread in a Milky Way across his chest. The people themselves were in twenty or more odd groups upon his arms, shoulders, back, sides, and wrists, as well as on the flat of his stomach. You found them in forests of hair, lurking among a constellation of freckles, or peering from armpit caverns, diamond eyes aglitter. Each seemed intent upon his own activity; each was a separate gallery portrait."
How did he do it? Ray Bradbury had an uncanny ability to describe things so vividly that my mind automatically generates clear hi-def image even as I read the words. As if Bradbury conjured images with his words rather than just writing them.

Since his passing a few months ago I have been on a little Bradbury binge, I started with started with [b:Something Wicked This Way Comes|248596|Something Wicked This Way Comes (Green Town, #2)|Ray Bradbury|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1409596011s/248596.jpg|1183550], then [b:The October Country|93251|The October Country|Ray Bradbury|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348069052s/93251.jpg|1046266], [b:The Martian Chronicles|76778|The Martian Chronicles|Ray Bradbury|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1374049948s/76778.jpg|4636013], [b:Fahrenheit 451|4381|Fahrenheit 451|Ray Bradbury|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1351643740s/4381.jpg|1272463] and now The Illustrated Man. As with a lot of his works The Illustrated Man is more science fantasy than science fiction, the science in his stories are often very suspect but Bradbury never wanted to write hard sf, he left that sort of thing to the likes of Asimov/Clarke/Heinlein, who were masters of the form. He wanted to write about humanity in his imagined scenarios. The whys are always more important than the hows for him.

Mars is Bradbury's go-to planets for aliens and rockets the space vehicle of choice. So, this being an sf collection Mars and rockets are featured in most stories, no FTL drives here probably because all the stories take place within our solar system (mostly just Earth and Mars - with one exception). There are 18 stories here, wrapped within a great frame story featuring the titular Illustrated Man, he of the weird animated tattoos so beautifully described in the quoted paragraph above:

1. The Veldt - Featuring one of Bradbury 's favorite plot devices, the auto-house (AI controlled houses). When a virtual reality nursery insist on showing an African veldt with hungry lions I think an appropriate modern tagline for this story would be "Shit Just Got Real". A tale of bad parenting and over indulging kids, I don't think Bradbury would have liked to live in an auto-house.

2. Kaleidoscope - After a rocket fall apart while in space the astronauts begin to float off in all directions. Here death is shown to be a great leveler. Also a rumination on the "quality of death", regret, redemption, and peace of mind as the end approaches.

3. The Other Foot This seems like a sequel to "Way in the Middle of the Air" from The Martian Chronicles. Mars has been entirely colonized by black people for 20 years. One day a rocket arrive with a crew of whites, will all hell break lose? I like the way the kids are all excited about seeing their first white people.

4. The Highway - The world ends except in countryside, where the rural protagonist's scope of the world is defined by his immediate pastoral settings. A simple life + ignorance = bliss

5. The Man - Rumours of the Messiah on Mars, not so much the Second Coming as the First such arrival, you gotta have faith-a-faith-a-faith.

6. The Long Rain - This is actually my favorite story in this collection, it is set on Venus (for a change) where it pelts down with rain all the time, very visceral, especially as it was raining when I was reading it.

7. The Rocket Man Yes, this song inspired Elton John's hit of the same name. A sad story about an astronaut so addicted to space he forsakes his family.

8. The Fire Balloons - Sentient and enlightened Martian balloons. Short short stories shouldn't be described at length!

9. The Last Night of the World - What it says on the tin but without any scene of explosions or death and destruction. It's just like any other day really.

10. The Exiles - The year is actually mentioned here, it's 2120 and Man is about to arrive on Mars. Unfortunately it is already occupied by the witches from Macbeth and other creatures from supernatural tales banned on Earth. This story is similar in theme to Fahrenheit 451.

11. No Particular Night or Morning - This story reminds me of the old philosophical question "When a tree falls in a lonely forest, and no animal is near by to hear it, does it make a sound?" I suspect only self centered (and insane) people would believe things don't exist when they are not around.

12. The Fox and the Forest - The single time travelling tale here, a nice couple hounded by some kind of "time police", not on Mars incidentally.

13. The Visitor - A telepathic man arrive on Mars, he has the ability to conjure up illusions of places, sight and smell. Makes him all too popular among the sick sufferers of "blood rust" who have been cast off from Earth. Reminds me of a story from The Martian Chronicles called "The Martian".

14. The Concrete Mixer - Martians invade earth and become corrupted by our numerous vices and follies. The single humorous story in this book I think. Particularly satirical of the American way of life.

15. Marionettes, Inc. - Do Marionettes dream of electric sheep? This is an early example of the sf trope of replacing people with robot or android copies. Veteran sf readers will not be surprised by the ending, but it is still a great little story about what makes us human and the way we treat each other.

16. The City - The single scifi-horror story here about a living AI city. If we don't reap what we sow our descendants will do the reaping, or may be we reap what our ancestors sow? Surprisingly violent and graphic story. May be this is my favorite story in this book. Any way, it's just great!

17. Zero Hour - Reminds me of the M. Night Shyamalan's movie Signs. Also about the peril of bad parenting (again), I think. More creepy kids.

18. The Rocket - A sweet but not too saccharine story about a poor junkyard family. The image of an inert silver rocket standing in the junkyard is particularly evocative.

After that we are back with the eponymous Illustrated Man, in nice and creepy closer. And look how long I have gone on and on!

Not the strongest Bradbury collection I think, but still a must-read for fans of the late great author, of sf stories, and of decent reads in general.