This is a collection of short stories written by Ray Bradbury. The story opens when a man, on a walking tour of Wisconsin, meets another man whose body is covered in tattoos. The man with the tattoos, known as the Illustrated Man, is looking for a job. He camped the night with the other man. His tattoos, he told him, where given to him by a witch from the future. When the sun comes down, the tattoos come to life, and play out little dramas upon the man’s flesh. Each of the stories contained in this book come from the dramas played out from the man’s tattoos.
The first story, The Veldt, tells the tale of a family from the future. In the future, people have rooms much like the halodeck from Star Trek. The room is virtual reality, and can be programmed and sensitized to its owners to create for them whatever reality they wish. For this family, the room serves as their children’s nursery. Indeed, the children spend so much time in this “nursery”; it has become a surrogate parent to them. The parents – particularly the father – have become concerned about the amount of time the children spend with the nursery.
He fears that perhaps their playtime has become all too real. He calls in an expert to check the nursery out. The room is supposed to respond whenever a person requests, or even thinks of what it wants the room to create. However, the room seems to have been stuck in a rut. The scene: the middle of an African veldt, where a family of lions feasted upon their kill. The expert suggests that the father try turning off the nursery for a while, and give the family a chance to come together as a real family again, without all their technological inventions getting in the way.
The father tries this, but the children and wife rebel. Finally, he relents and turns it back on again. The children race into the nursery, and get locked in. They scream for their parents. The parents burst into the nursery, but instead of their children, they see lions. The lions approach, closing in for the kill The next story, Kaleidoscope, is an astronaut’s worst nightmare. Their ship explodes, but not everyone is killed. Rather, they are each sent hurtling through space, each in a different direction and each helpless to change course or direction.
Their only comfort: radio contact with one another as they drift endlessly into oblivion. The Other Foot gives a kind of twist on the racism of our nation’s birth. Before the Third World War, several colonies of blacks were sent to Mars to start a new life. Several years have passed, the War come and gone, and now a solitary rocket from earth, piloted by a solitary white man, has landed to give new of home. Many of the people come to greet him with hostility and revenge for the injustices they once experienced in another time, another place.
But when he arrives, he tells them the results of the war: total and complete destruction of everything that had once been home, once been the planet known as Earth. Now there is nothing, not even old hatred or grudges to come from. There are 15 other tales in this book. All follow along a similar theme of strange twists, hope and desperation, and hard lessons and things difficult to accept, see, or understand. My particular favorite is a tale also included in another of Bradbury’s books, The Martian Chronicles. It is entitled, The Fire Balloons.
Mars has begun to be colonized, and its beginning very much resembles that of the early Gold Rush days where boomtowns were alive with drinking, gambling, loose women, and rampant sin and debauchery. The Episcopal Fathers have come with a mission: save the souls of these men and women while they still can. Not only of the men themselves, but also of the Martian life not yet knowing of the blessings of Christ. When the fathers first land on Mars, they approach the mayor of the First Town tells the fathers of spheres of blue fire that live in the woods.
Father Peregrine’s interest is peaked, and he talks the other fathers into looking into the matter of the spheres. Supposedly, according to the mayor’s tale, they exhibit signs of intelligence, perhaps even of mercy and compassion. While in the woods, the fathers discuss the matters of their mission, the definitions of sin and goodness and the teaching of Christ and how they could possibly apply such things to an alien race. While they are talking, the blue spheres approach their camp. The other fathers are afraid and quake in fear.
Father Peregrine steps up to the spheres, overcome by their beauty and excitement. He calls out to them and his voice echoes up to hills and causes an avalanche. As the rocks fall, the spheres rush to the fathers and transport them to safety. Now Peregrine is convinced that not only are the spheres intelligent, but that they possess a benign intelligent far beyond anything human beings have achieved. However, the other fathers are disbelieving. How could anything not human possess qualities such as mercy or free will? He intends to prove them wrong.
He asks that the entire congregation of Episcopal fathers come with him to the woods and see what he has seen. They come, and pray for the spheres to arrive. They do, and they tell their tale. They are the Old Ones, as they describe it, evolved from a race of the original Martians to inhabit the planet. They have forsaken their material life and achieved the sublime state and live only in God’s grace. They do not need, nor want, nor feel anything but love and compassion for all of God’s creations. As Father Peregrine perceived, they are the body of Christ, in all his Glory.
They are a piece of the Truth that will someday come together and form the Big Truth. The fathers thanked the spheres, and prepared to move on to the next town. Another very fascinating story is The Long Rain. While many of the tales take place on either Earth or Mars, this one is set on Venus where the storms are consistent and it never stops raining. However, man managed to colonize the planet by building large, dome shaped buildings called “Sun Domes”. Inside each of these houses hung a flaming, free-floating globe of yellow fire – a miniature sun!
In the middle of this continuous rain and miles away from the blessed shelter of any Sun Dome walk a Lieutenant and two of his troops. They had crashed landed upon the planet and been wandering in the rain, searching for any sort of shelter they might find. As they wander through the Venetian forest, the constant, incessant rain slowly begins to drive them mad. It bleaches all the color out of their clothes, their faces, makes everything around them wet and soggy, and erodes away at their will, their very sanity.
Just when they feel they have reached their limit and could not possibly tolerate another minute of rain, they arrived back at their crash site. Overcome with hopelessness and dismay, the men can only stare blankly in wonder. Apparently, a near by electrical storm must have thrown their compasses off. Now they can do nothing but turn around and start all over. As they make to do so, the electrical storm strikes and kills one of the men. Now there is only two tortured, desperate men left in the soggy jungle, with the rain as their constant companion. A number of other bitter, ironic, tragedies befall the two.
They do eventually find a Sun Dome, only to find that it has been shut down to due lack of funds from congress settled on earth. What do they know of the situation on Venus? How can they say that 126 Sun Domes are more than necessary to support life on Venus? Why didn’t they ask these three men first? The two men set off again, wading through the ceaseless torrents. One of the men goes mad. One month, perhaps more, perhaps less, of infinite rain, no sleep, little food, jungle rot, and the rain, rain, rain, forever beating him down proved to be simply two much.
As he lay to ground and surrendered to the waters that fell endlessly from the sky, his friend touched him in pity and sympathy. The rain had numbed his skin and he was entirely incapable of acknowledging his buddy’s touch. The lieutenant ran on, racing the rain, the time, the sound of his buddy’s gun as it went off for the last time. “‘We weren’t made for this; no Earthman was or ever will be able to take it. Your nerves, your nerves. ‘” This he thought as he headed off in desperate need of salvation from the eternal wet and mush.
The lieutenant does make it to the Sun Dome, the only one to survive out of the three men who wandered for a month in circles through the rain and jungle. It makes you wonder, every time you step out into a winter storm that’s gone on for days, for even weeks. Could you handle it? Ray Bradbury has written a number of books, including Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920. He sold his first science fiction story in 1941. He has also writing for television, radio, theater, and film, and magazines.