The Grand Master

Illustrated Man blog

If El Greco had painted miniatures in his prime, no bigger than your hand, infinitely detailed with all his sulphurous color, elongation, and anatomy, perhaps he might have used this man’s body for his art. The colors burned in three dimensions. They were windows looking in upon fiery reality. Here, gathered on one wall, were all the finest scenes in the universe, the man was a walking treasure gallery. This wasn’t the work of a cheap carnival tattoo man with three colors and whiskey on his breath. This was the accomplishment of a living genius, vibrant, clear, and beautiful.

Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man

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Ray Bradbury, one of the founding authors and Grand Masters of science fiction, has been dead a little over a year now. Today is his birthday (born in 1920 in Waukegan, Ill.), and I decided to take a look at him, in part by letting you take a look at me interpreting, like a pale ghost, one of his more famous anthologies: The Illustrated Man.

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“I wonder who I am. In what Earth mind tonight do I exist? In some African hut? Some hermit, reading my tales? Is he the lonely candle in the wind of time and science? The flickering orb sustaining me here in rebellious exile? Is it him? Or some boy in a discarded attic, finding me, only just in time!…”

The Illustrated Man

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The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and oven heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment upon the land….

They knew how to live with nature and get along with nature. They didn’t try too hard to be all men and no animal. That’s the mistake we made when Darwin showed up. We embraced him and Huxley and Freud, all smiles. And then we discovered that Darwin and our religions didn’t mix. Or at least we didn’t think they did. We were fools. We tried to budge Darwin and Huxley and Freud. They wouldn’t move very well. So, like idiots, we tried knocking down religion. We succeeded pretty well. We lost our faith and went around wondering what life was for. If art was no more than a frustrated outflinging of desire, if religion was no more than self-delusion, what good was life? Faith had always given us answer to all things. But it all went down the drain with Freud and Darwin. We were and still are lost people….

The Martian Chronicles

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Bradbury is notable to me for many reasons. I was greatly impressed by his short story, “Dark They Were and Golden Eyed,” back in high school, and that led me to The Martian Chronicles. I tried tackling The Illustrated Man one time, but only ended up reading the chapter intros and another standard Bradbury story, “The Veldt.” People in Second Life should be required to read that story at least once; it may make you think a little closely about how addictive virtual reality can be. It certainly was for the children of the story’s protagonist…enough to cause his destruction.

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From the outer edge of his life, looking back, there was only one remorse, and that was only that he wished to go on living.

The Illustrated Man

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Ray often told of how, in 1932, he saw a carnival magician named Mr. Electrico perform. According to Bradbury’s Web site:

At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, “I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.”

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You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” – personal quote

Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

Fahrenheit 451

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How many copies of Fahrenheit 451 have I sold over eight years to high-school teenagers with drooping eyes and all the certainty in their bearing that this would be one of the most boring things they ever did, to read a book. I wonder if – I sincerely hope that! – they finished their assignment with a greatly changed attitude toward the power, the need, for the printed word. Ray saw the danger in a society that sells off its ideas for the short-term satisfaction of instant gratification, the safety of never thinking for yourself, and he tried to warn us of its seductive power, and the consequences of its coming too pass.

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Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.” – Bradbury

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