Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Casual Shorts & the ISFdb Top Short Fiction # 39: The Veldt by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury, Ray. "The World the Children Made." The Saturday Evening Post, 23 September 1950.

This article is part of my attempt to read all the 155 stories currently (as of 1 November 2022) on the ISFdb's Top Short Fiction list. Please see the introduction and list of stories hereI am encouraging readers to rate the stories and books they have read on the ISFdb.

ISFdb Rating:   8.82/10
My Rating:        7/10

" 'George, I wish you'd look at the nursery.' "

Cover by George Hughes
George and Lydia Hadley have invested in a Happylife Home, where all their daily comforts are met. Their home will prepare and serve their meals, and even switch their lights on and off throughout each part of the home they are passing, as they are passing. Yet they believe that the best decision they made was to include in their home a nursery for the children. Very much like the Star Trek holodeck, the nursery can create whatever is on the minds of the children--it can produce their very desires. In the case of ten year-olds Peter and Wendy Hadley, who are currently interested in Africa, the nursery has created a veldt, an open space within a jungle, which includes a herd of lions in the distance who seem to always be chewing up some prey.

Yet something is off, the Hadleys notice, as the children's obsession begins to make them uncomfortable, as does the veldt and the ever observing lions. They decide that the children--and even they--have become too spoiled with the comforts of their new home, and make the ultimate decision to be less reliant on modern comforts. But are the children prepared for this great change?

Included in Bradbury's popular collection The Illustrated Man, "The Veldt" is one of his most read stories, and it is overall a really good one. The message is straightforward, as is the plotting which is paint-by-numbers, but the story works well as it places the reader on edge, is short with good pacing, and those looming lions--the looming dangers of technology and its ties to indolence--drive the narrative forward. There is nothing subtle or surprising, and its theme is well worn, even for 1950, but it becomes more prevalent each year so is never dated. The story predicts motion sensor lights and the holodeck, though we don't yet have tables that apologize to us for forgetting the ketchup. In fact, any smart gadget that would "forget" a pre-programmed step would today be considered faulty. In this world the table gadget is given personality, perhaps a little joke by Bradbury, or to indicate that those lions are not smoke and mirrors, but have desires of their own.

The story was originally title "The World the Children Made," but "The Veldt" is a more appropriate title. While the children made the world inside the nursery, the world that made a nursery that could drive the irrational drives of children was made by a society seeking comfort. The story's central focus, and where the tension lies, is in the veldt.

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