Young People Read Old SFF

All Summer in a Day

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury was one of the few SF authors to be accepted as respectable outside the SF ghetto. Like many of his contemporaries, Bradbury’s stories were adapted to radio, film, and television. Unlike authors like Clarke or Heinlein, however, Bradbury books like Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles were literary enough to be placed on high school reading lists. It was certain that I would at some point force offer a Bradbury to my unfortunate victims volunteers.

The only problem is that, as established over on my other blog, I am not actually a fan of Bradbury’s fiction. How to choose? I considered choosing “The Veldt,” on the grounds it seemed to be the Bradbury most often adapted to radio—but I rejected that because it was not one of the few Bradbury stories that managed to burrow themselves into my brain: “The Foghorn,” “There Will Come Soft Rains,” “Frost and Fire,” and the story I actually chose, Bradbury’s tribute to children everywhere, “All Summer in Day.” But as has been established before in this series of reviews, just because a story resonated with me half a century ago does not mean younger readers will find it interesting. Or will they?

“All Summer in a Day” can be found in the collection A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories.

In some ways, All Summer in a Day felt like Asimov-lite. The story explores belief in something unseen (and how people react to it). It also shows the crazy mob mentality that comes out of the unenlightened masses and how the enlightened few suffer for it, and it involves a sudden and extreme change in the weather. That said, I had a lot more fun reading this story compared to Asimov.

This story didn’t appear to be an extremely obvious soapbox for the author about the evils of organized religion, which is a plus. Also, every element of the story – the setting, the characters and the plot, can be described best as “simple yet effective”. I got enough information about Venus to understand the universe without being overburdened with excessive, irrelevant, details. The characters were easy to understand – the bully, the victim, and the absentee teacher (is Venus one of those crappy school districts that can only attract the sub-par teachers who don’t give the kids the individualized attention they deserve?). The story reminded us that kids can be horrible to one another anywhere – even on a weird dystopian space colony where the sun shines once every seven years.

All this simple-effectiveness leads to something else I really appreciate about the story – it’s actually short. I didn’t feel overburdened by any of the annoyingly hard to follow details that have frustrated me in other stories. I would be curious to read more Bradbury, and see what else he’s got to say about things. The worst thing about the story is that, other than absentee parenting and bullying in elementary school, I’m not overly sure what it was about. But, given the length, I’m willing to forgive, I guess.

—Lisa

I'd never read anything by Ray Bradbury before, which I always felt was a bit of a failing on my part. I was just never grabbed by any of the back cover blurbs in the used bookstore. Based on this one story, I'm willing to give other Bradbury stories a shot.

This is a story about bullying with science fiction window dressing. Bradbury isn't writing about whizbang science, he's telling a human story here. I'm prepared to overlook the janky planetary science since no probes had landed on Venus yet when this story was published. The septennial breaks in cloud cover are less easy to swallow since people had been watching Venus for many years by that point. But again, the science isn't the point of this story. It's a story about how cruel kids can be because they lack perspective and empathy. Those kids did a really horrible thing, even if it didn't leave physical marks. I felt sad by the end.

Mission: elicit emotion in the reader. Status: accomplished.

—Jamie

Has it aged well?

The best aged story so far. Apart from the fact that they can survive on Venus for some reason, this story has aged well since it’s from the children’s perspective meaning that it is purposefully simply-worded.

It reminds me of…

Writing class. We read this short story in my Grade 12 writing class. It also reminds me (as it probably does many people) of being bullied or left out. It also reminds me of being singled out for being too quiet and/or about disbelieved for knowledge when I was younger.

It’s similar to other children’s literature. There’s an awkward children’s literature aimed at 6-10 years written by adults that is obviously written by adults for children. I always found this type of writing very fictional, but it let me know how adults think children think. To me, this genre of writing was always too simple and too complex at the same time. Usually, there are a lot of complex metaphors and descriptive language. But my experience of actual children’s thoughts and writing was more direct, and more emotional. Children don’t describe around an emotion – they just say what it is.

As for the sci-fi aspects of the story, it reminds me of any story or depiction of human colonization on another planet with an unusual environment and somehow perfectly breathable atmosphere. E.g. Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.

Other Thoughts

It’s an okay piece of children’s literature. It says what it wants to say in a short amount of space. This would be a good short story for introducing the format to middle school readers.

Conclusion

Meh. It was slightly more interesting when I read it in high school, but not by much. 6/10

—Mel

I had a very hard time being interested in this story. It felt like it was being told a degree too removed from the characters, like it was a report of what happened rather than a story. The events are described, but we don’t know how the characters feel or why we should care. The only thing of significance in the story seems to be the setting, otherwise this could be any group of children anywhere, treating the outsider differently and denying her the opportunity to participate in a treat.

As for the setting, this story requires more headcanoning than I care to do to explain away Venus as a cold, rainy world. I feel like never seeing the sun would probably be the least of the problems for people actually living on Venus. I’m not sure what the understanding of Venus was when this story was written, but to me this just sticks out as blatantly wrong.

I suppose this could be trying to examine the impacts of living in different environments, as Margot is clearly not adjusting to the constant rain, but I feel like that could have been better explored if we were actually inside the characters heads, or at least had a better understanding of how life has been changed to adjust to the differences in the climate. We get hints of tunnels and an underground city, but no real understanding of their day to day life. Why are they on Venus? What do they do there? What are the benefits that outweigh living in constant rain?

I don’t usually pay attention to writing style, but I found the way this story was written very distracting. The sentences and paragraphs felt very choppy, and since not much was happening in the story itself, I started paying more attention to how the story was written rather than what it was saying.

I feel like if there was more to the story here, it could have been interesting. However, there isn’t enough there to keep me interested in either the individual characters or the world they inhabit.

—Mikayla

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