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The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

I never thought I’d call a science fiction book… beautiful. But that was just me being judgmental, because this collection was really just beautiful. I can’t think of any other word to describe it. Actually I can, it was very original, every story was unique and every story was more than just ‘robots and space and stuff’, which someone like the aforementioned judgmental me would have expected. The stories were more about people and how they have become in the future, how they react to situations that seem other-worldly to us: each of the stories was just a short insight into people from the sometimes typical, sometimes entirely new sci-fi-ey scenarios.

A story that left a strong impression on me was The Last Night of the World. A couple, like people all over the world, wakes up knowing that the world is going to end that evening, having dreamt it. They are completely sure of it, as is everyone, and with their fates sealed, they live their last day with a calm acceptance that chilled me to the bone. “What would you do if it were your last day on this earth?” – it is a pet question of any of your typical ‘fun’ surveys. I would never have thought it, but after reading this, I know we would all just live, the way we do.

The Rocket Man was my favourite. The story was about an astronaut who goes off into space for three months at a time, only to return to his wife and son for never more than three consecutive days. It was utterly tragic and haunting.

The collection started with another great one: The Veldt. It is about a family (mom, dad and two kids) who live in an automated house (called a happy house or something like that). All the descriptions of the fabulous machines that coo and comfort you let you know that the house is about to become very grim very soon. So there I was, reading, sure that something that taught me machines are bad was about to happen, but I could never have thought it could be so… gruesome. It sends a shock through you and a thrill and the writing is still, somehow, beautiful.

Being lost in space – there were a few stories about that, as well. They all talked about people reacting to that in their own special and similar ways – giving up or actually looking for that silver lining, some drift off into happy hallucinations and some just go insane.

And what a fascinating frame device! An illustrated man, with eighteen incredibly realistic tattoos on his body, that come alive at night to tell eighteen stories. Wow.

I read this book two nights ago and I still haven’t been able to get out of my head the thoughts of the world coming to an absolute end, authors and characters coming to life through belief like gods, robots falling in love, superior beings incapable of sin, meeting God and people of the future seeking shelter on other planets. You know how some books leave you with ‘no words’? This collection has left me with too many: words, thoughts, haunting recollections and it feels much better that being left speechless.

This was quite the perfect start to The 2013 Sci-Fi Experience.

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