The Veldt and Inherent Struggles in Writing Sci-Fi
“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury highlights inherent problems a writer can face when confronted with science fiction. Sci-fi as a genre has different rules that separate it from other fiction. As the name suggests, it requires science; a plausibility in the fantastical elements that lends the work credence. Often it is self indulgent in optimistically looking toward the future at what marvels technology will bring. At other times, such as in Cyberpunk, it can be used as a backdrop to showcase the negative aspects of society and where the future will take them. In either case, the science is the pivotal aspect, and as such needs to be convincing for the rest of the story to hold up. Sci-fi rarely has fantasy elements without bearing the moniker of Sci-fi Fantasy to quantify it within the genre, since fantasy elements by nature neither can be nor need to be explained by science. That explanation is still required in all sci-fi, and as such suspension of disbelief (necessary for any good story of any genre) needs to pull double duty for the story to be convincing. This brings us to “The Veldt,” which unfortunately fails to capture my suspension of disbelief. The technology and its use is represented fine, but the ending stinger is where it really loses me. The lions (which are stated over and over as being illusionary constructs of the nursery) magically come to life and devour the parents. How? Why does this happen? If the lions are just light particles and falsified sensory information to make the subjects believe they are real, how can they make actual physical contact with the parents? They may be convinced they are being mauled, sure. But the teeth would not rip their flesh. The parents would presumably still be lying there when the psychiatrist got there, writhing and screaming as if in a nightmare, but otherwise perfectly fine. I suppose Bradbury expects us to believe that the children fiddling with the wiring of the room would make for the ability to manifest a living animal from nothing? They are children, and unless the room also contains a 3D printer capable of sewing muscle tissue into an autonomous form then those kids are shit out of luck. So did the children murder their parents themselves and eat them in the midst of the illusions distracting them? That’s a much more terrifying and interesting theory that most definitely should have been addressed if that were the case. In the end, the nursery as we know it is incapable of performing as it did. Even if it were, such a thing would never acquire government approval to be sold to anyone, let alone for use with children. Without convincing elements, the story’s larger implications carry no weight. Such a thing would never happen even within the world of the story. In another genre it might be passable, but sci-fi needs this kind of validation more than others. There is no magic in this world. Their house wasn’t haunted. The story was just poorly written. Surely it has the potential to be plausible if the author tried to make it so. Maybe it’s a test model? Maybe instead of illusions it uses animatronics or nanobots or connects to the brain in a way that mental trauma could cause permanent damage? This argument lacks validity however, because that is not the story we were given. Illusions cannot eat people, and Bradbury failed to make me believe his story. Without believability, sci-fi has nothing.