Young People Read Old SFF

The Veldt

Ray Bradbury

I am not particularly fond of Ray Bradbury’s fiction but I know lots of people are. Logically, he seems like a safe bet when introducing young people to old SF in its various forms. The Veldt in particular was adapted to radio on a number of occasions. Paranoia about children was a common theme in the early Baby Boom years and The Veldt seems to be a prime example of the subgenre. I don’t see the attraction myself but I know I am in the minority where Bradbury was concerned. But will my young people agree with the majority or agree with me?

The X Minus One adaptation of The Veldt is here.

This story seemed quite relevant to some of today's worries while at the same time managing to seem quaintly old-fashioned and outdated.

On the one hand, the retrospective point of view means that it introduces an ominous feeling that something bad has and will happen. This saves the story from being a very boring story. On the other hand, we know things turn out okay because the story is being reported afterwards.

The parts relevant to today's world saved the story from being absolutely too quaint. Technology out of human control is a very relevant theme to current worries with electronics being pervasive throughout much of society these days. Interestingly, the terror of virtual reality technology in this story is not a current worry - it's more like a Star Trek episode where the holodeck or a holographic character is dangerously out of control and/or sentient. Another worry relevant to today is the worry of parents and children being disconnected from each other, all individually doing what they like.

The most ridiculous thing that was funny was the wallet that supposedly "smells like lion". I chuckled out loud. How do you know what lion smells like? Are you sure it's not the smell of a different animal?

As usual, I was annoyed at the main female role. Hysterical, emotional, overly sensitive, silly. Completely replaceable by automation.

I did appreciate that the children's names are Peter and Wendy, like the children from Peter Pan. I fully expected that the children would magically disappear. But they only leave mentally.

Overall, this story was okay but kind of boring. I hope other episodes are better than this.

—Mel

In some ways this story reminded me a lot of Jerome Bixby's It's a Good Life because it involves children who have spectacular thoughts. I really enjoy these types of stories because the children have agency over the adults around them. The adults become confused and disoriented at their loss of power as the children gain more and more control over them. I loved Bradbury's setting of the HappyLife Home, a futuristic "home of tomorrow" type residence. The Holodeck-like nursery becomes a prescient metaphor for the way parents try to manage the Internet and screen time today. I was a little confused at the end because the radio program tacked on a postscript ending. Bradbury's is much better, of course. He was a genius at worming his way through the darkness of societal norms, and this story is no exception. The actors and sound effects both did a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the story, and I was instantly transported from the suburban nursery to the sinister veldt.

—Claire

So this is basically virtual reality and automation bringing about the collapse of society (on a small scale)?

I'm very frustrated by SF stories that basically seem to amount to technology is destroying proper family roles because women won't be occupied cooking and cleaning and it will turn children against their parents. I want to see actual consideration of how technology like this changes society, and this just seems to be advocating for the status quo.

I suppose the technology invented for this story might have been unique ideas when the story was written, but now it just feels like other old visions of the future.

The story trying to build suspense of what was happening in the nursery didn't work for me, because I was exasperated by it, and I wasn't invested in the characters at all. Even with it having multiple actors to play the different characters, they felt more like stereotypes than characters.

I would have been far more interested in the story if there had been more exploration of them interacting with the house and how it changed their lives, but everything felt very superficial, even for a short story. I needed more development from feeling unneeded because the house took care of things to believing they were being eaten by VR lions.

—Mikayla

I listened to The Veldt by Ray Bradbury this morning. Listening to a story is still a little odd for me because I'm not into podcasts or audiobooks. It feels like being a child again while someone reads to you at bedtime, complete with different voices for each character. I've noticed that the stories are much shorter than I'd expected, but this suits my commuting attention span.

The Veldt is framed as a case report in a the case of George and Lydia Abbott, narrated by their psychiatrist. The trigger for the events in the story is the purchase of a "Happy Life Home" (presumably trademarked), which "clothed us, fed us, rocked us to sleep". The Abbotts are a traditional family with two kids, thrilled to be able to buy the latest high tech house with the best interactive VR nursery for their kids. The description of the house conjures the imagery and role of a parent, which is echoed later in Lydia Abbott's concerns about being replaced in her role as "wife and mother and maid".

Putting aside the sexism of that statement about how a woman should fill her days, the worry about people and "real life" being replaced by technology is something that struck me as still relevant today. Unsurprisingly, the telepathic virtual reality nursery proves addictive for the kids, and they don't want to leave it.

But then another layer is added to the story. What are the kids playing with when their parents aren't watching? The Abbotts go to investigate. And are shocked by the vivid and savage African world that their children's imaginations have brought to life. But was it really the children? The plot twists and drives up the suspense very neatly.

I found the writing and performances very engaging. While they were comprehensible, the names of the various bits of tech were a little jarring because they seemed out of date, eg. tape.

—Melissa

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