The Illustrated Man gives one of the best framing devices in genre history. It is simultaneously sad, soft, and starkly terrifying. While the bulk of it takes form in the introduction, small sections appear between many of the short stories and there is a properly disturbing epilogue. More than the individual short stories collected within, this framing device serves to make it clear that The Illustrated Man is appropriately shelved with horror if separated into a specific genre. That said the stories within do, largely, have a darker tinge to them. Ranging from science fictional to so down to earth they border on the crime story, each should leave the reader somewhat unnerved.
The October Country is the odd man out in this volume. While being a unified book of short stories is nothing rare, the previous collection serving as an example, this volume features a number of illustrations by one Joseph Mugnaini. The illustrations are quite good, giving off appropriate atmosphere for each story, and help to create a unification for the volume. A small paragraph is included describing the October Country, after a nice dedication to August Durleth. While including the original illustrations is appreciated, the lack of the 1971 replacements by Bob Pepper or the 1996 forward “May I Die Before My Voices” might cause it to be seen as less than definitive by many. By a similar token there was a UK edition of the book which featured “The Traveler” among stories in the collection, and an exhaustive version might append it as well. Indeed, the decision not to include it in the listed other stories is strange in that regard, although one might live in hope of a third Library of America Bradbury volume. That said the myriad notes at the end provide delightful information about the illustrations and specific choice of text, and will be a gold mine for interested parties.
The final assortment of stories is certainly broad. Life-affirming stories like “I Sing The Body Electric” are included, as are thoughtful disturbing pieces like “A Sound of Thunder” giving a very nice cross-section of the work of one of the best short story artists of his era. While anyone will find a story to love in this assortment, and in the book as a whole, Bradbury experts may raise an eyebrow at the occasional piece that wasn’t chosen.
The back matter is lovely as always. There is a nice timeline of the life of Ray Bradbury going into a fair bit of detail in particular about his publishing history and awards although detailing personal events as well. This is followed by a well detailed set of notes on the text, explaining the origins of each short story in terms of serialized publishing, as well as explaining which editions these versions come from and why certain decisions in that regard were made. A general section of notes exist as well, serving almost to annotate all of the contained material.
As with any Library of America volume, this is a wonderful small and gorgeous edition of the stories contained inside. Anyone interested in either of the short story collections inside, any of the individual stories, or the short fiction of Ray Bradbury in general will do well to pick it up. For students of the short story, it is an excellent volume. For those curious about the 20th century in horror, scifi, fantasy, or Americana it is a must buy.
(Library of America 2022)