Speculative Short Fiction Deserves Love discussion

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Individual Stories > The Veldt/The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista

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message 1: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
Opening discussion for Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" and J.G. Ballard's "The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista."

If anyone needs or desires a link to read the stories:

"The Veldt" http://www.d.umn.edu/~csigler/PDF%20f...

"The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista" http://www.transart.org/wp-content/up...


message 2: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
I know we usually try to keep the discussions narrowly focused on the stories at hand; however, I think in this instance I'd be OK if anyone wants to talk about the larger context of automated houses in SF. There's actually a pretty long tradition of that kind of story going back to the late 19th century, apparently. I'm personally bookmarking this entry in the SF Encyclopedia for future reading. Why do you think SF writers have found this idea so fascinating and/or terrifying?

http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/...


message 3: by Bunny (new)

Bunny | 327 comments I'm going to need a little while to recover from the horror of the 1950s family dynamics in those stories before I'm going to be able to focus on anything else. There may be some shaking it off and jumping up and down going eeeeeewwwwwww required. Bleaugh! It's hard to remember sometimes that was once considered absolutely normal and even amusing.

Oddly I finally got time this afternoon to watch the first episode of season three of Orphan Black from the DVR and when I switched it off what was playing on broadcast was an old episode of I Love Lucy, and then I switched that off and read these two stories and now I have whiplash of the brain!


message 4: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
I think these stories are very much a product of 1950s family dynamics, and in particular suburban middle class family dynamics.


message 5: by Bunny (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Yes, very much so.


message 6: by Terry (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments Before I post anything else, I have to share this image by a sixth grader:

https://www.google.com/search?q=the+v...


message 7: by Terry (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments Also, this music from deadmua5:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiUAq...


message 8: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
Terry wrote: "Before I post anything else, I have to share this image by a sixth grader:

Wow. A sixth-grader made that?

So, it had been many years since I read The Veldt, and in my brain I had it filed away as an automated house story, which it is to a degree, but while re-reading it struck me that it's also a story about television and fears about the corrupting influence of mass media (which today could just as easily be video games or the internet) and how mass media consumption works to supplant traditional nuclear family structures and values (inasmuch as those ever really existed outside of "Leave it to Beaver"). I have more thoughts on that, but I need coffee first.


message 9: by Bunny (last edited May 04, 2015 08:39AM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Another thing that strikes me about The Veldt is how it reflects a particular set of popular conceptions and fears about children and adolescents that is very much of its time. Throughout the 50's in the US and UK there were these widespread fears that what J Edgar Hoover called "a flood tide of youth violence" was on its way. There were congressional hearings in 1953 about the rising dangers of "juvenile delinquency," and curfews were imposed in major cities, sociologists and psychiatrists were writing learned tomes about the coming waves of youth anarchy.

This widespread moral panic was reflected in fiction and popular culture, I'm thinking of Rebel Without a Cause, and A Clockwork Orange, and Lord of the Flies and clearly also The Veldt. Here it seems to also be bound up with popular psychology conceptions of child development and unrestrained Freudian ids, to produce monster children who will quite happily kill their parents because they haven't been properly supervised and moulded by their inattentive mother.

It so reminds me that the past really is a different country, even when its imagining the future.


message 10: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
Bunny wrote: Another thing that strikes me about The Veldt is how it reflects a particular set of popular conceptions and fears about children and adolescents that is very much of its time.

Very much of that time, but those conceptions and fears have some lingering effects today I'd say, most recently in Baltimore and the media-created story about teens supposedly organizing a "purge" of violence and anarchy to mimic the movie "The Purge." I've also been doing some research and writing about the juvenile justice system in a couple of states recently and can see echoes (or perhaps a resurgence) of some of those ideas in terms of how and when juveniles get shuttled into the adult criminal justice system.

I swear that I'm going to do some comparing and contrasting of the two stories. I just need to organize my notes and my thoughts into some coherent analysis.


message 11: by Bunny (last edited May 04, 2015 09:18AM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments I also note how because the house can do a better job than she can of darning socks and bathing children, Lydia is at a loss for what to do with herself and just wanders around feeling superfluous and unhappy. It never seems to occur to anyone in the story that she might do something other than boil eggs and dust furniture. If she can't be a housewife then clearly she's just without any kind of purpose and a prey to nervous fancies. Again, so much of its time.

I think there are some interesting parallels with the portrayals of Lydia, Fay and Gloria in the two stories.


message 12: by Bunny (last edited May 04, 2015 09:23AM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Misha wrote: "Very much of that time, but those conceptions and fears have some lingering effects today I'd say, most recently in Baltimore and the media-created story about teens supposedly organizing a "purge" of violence and anarchy to mimic the movie "The Purge..."

Well and there was a very strong racist component to the moral panic of the 50's too. I don't think its any kind of a coincidence that the place the children conjure up when they start to go feral is Africa. There were many racist ideas about African people being more sexual and more emotional and less able to govern themselves and that good white children were going to catch their moral inadequacies by listening to rock and blues and hanging out with them and dancing with an insufficiently upright spine and not enough distance and order between them.

Its also interesting to me that the two children are named Wendy and Peter, clearly a reference to Peter Pan, but what is the intended contrast or comparison I wonder? I'm not exactly sure.


message 13: by Terry (last edited May 04, 2015 11:37AM) (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments Misha wrote:

I know we usually try to keep the discussions narrowly focused on the stories at hand; however, I think in this instance I'd be OK if anyone wants to talk about the larger context of automated houses in SF.

… and Bunny wrote:

I'm going to need a little while to recover from the horror of the 1950s family dynamics in those stories before I'm going to be able to focus on anything else.

One place to start might be to mention that other Bradbury short story, written the same year, 1950: “There Will Come Soft Rains”. Now there’s a ‘50’s story: an automated house, its occupants dead in a nuclear annihilation, and the house playing on, ‘caring’ for the family that’s no longer there. That duck and cover mindset is definitely '50's.

“The Veldt” was written in 1950, so it’s sixty four. It’s held up remarkably well, in this age of Occulus Rift and Hololens. One of the few tells that dates it, besides that 1950’s gestalt, is this line:

They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.

Seen any $30K houses lately?

The nursery could be the model for a Star Trek Holodeck. As Misha mentions, the technology that inspired the story must have been television: that’s all there was back then. But to put that in perspective, here’s what a television set looked like circa 1952:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gbaku/2...

Speaking of automated house stories, here’s a question: shouldn't we consider the house (or nursery) as a character rather than a setting?


message 14: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
I think the houses definitely could be considered characters in both stories, and it's one of the things that unites them thematically.


message 15: by Bunny (last edited May 04, 2015 01:01PM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments And in both stories some of the characters fall in love with the house, and other characters hate and fear it. Then the house tries to kill the characters who fear it so that it won't be separated from the characters who love it. In The Veldt the house suceeds in Stells it fails but does manage to drive Fay off. Basically they're both love triangles.


message 16: by Francesca (new)

Francesca Forrest (asakiyume) | 125 comments Love that illustration by the 6th grader for The Veldt!

I heard The Veldt read on the radio, on "American Shorts," and thought it really epitomized the concerns of the time while at the same time, yeah, holding up very well in an SF sense. The other story I haven't had a chance to read yet. I have *very* limited internet access this week, but I hope to get back online later, when I've read the second story. Meanwhile, I've really enjoyed reading folks' reactions and thoughts thus far!


message 17: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 20 comments a question: how many of you had ever heard of Green Mansions before?


message 18: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
I saw the Audrey Hepburn movie version years ago, but never read the book. However, I'm not sure there's a connection to the stories we're currently discussing, since it's not in the tradition of the sf automated house story or the 1950s family dynamics that we've been discussing. Can you elaborate on why you brought that up here?


message 19: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 20 comments Because it's explicitly cited in "The Veldt". Did you know what it meant there?


message 20: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
Honestly, I had mostly forgotten about "Green Mansions" and the reference in the story didn't really register until I clicked through to your link and read the description of the book. Just getting the name "Rima" hadn't jogged my memory (having seen the movie once on TV about 20 years ago), and I kind of glossed over the fleeting reference to the title of the book itself. In context, it was clear enough that the parents were talking about the children intentionally shifting to a less threatening setting than the veldt.


message 21: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 20 comments interesting that he opted for a literary reference to do it.


message 22: by Bunny (last edited May 06, 2015 09:49AM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments There are a number of literary references, Tom Swift is a character from a popular series of juvenile science fiction books of the 50's where the inventor Tom Swift has adventures. Traveling with Rod and Reel is a reference to the sort of Victorian travelogues popular in the 19th century and to the parodies of them in the 20th, like Through the Alimentary Canal with Gun and Camera. Aladdin and his lamp, Green Mansions. The children are named Peter and Wendy, reference to Peter Pan. The parents are named George and Lydia, reference to the Wickhams of Pride and Prejudice.

However the story can be read without knowledge of any of the references and still make sense. They are just another layer, fun for those who get them and not needed for those who don't.


message 23: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
I actually did read a Tom Swift book once as a kid. It had to do with building an airstrip on pontoons in the middle of the Pacific.

At any rate, I think the literary references are another way in which The Veldt is a product of its time. I think many of them, particularly Tom Swift, would be more familiar to readers picking up this story in the '50s than readers 60 years later whose lives are dominated by Kardashians and Avengers.


message 24: by Bunny (last edited May 06, 2015 10:16AM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments I have not read any Tom Swift books, but it might be fun in a sort of retro way to look at some. I used to read all my Mom and uncles kids books when I went to visit my maternal grandma. But they were more into Prince Valiant type stories and/or realistic fiction, not so much the science fiction. I seem to be one of the earliest science fiction nerds in my family.


message 25: by Misha (new)

Misha (ninthwanderer) | 151 comments Mod
The Tom Swift book belonged to my dad, as did the tattered copy of 1984 that I read for the first time when I was in sixth grade, I think. I also got the Foundation Trilogy, Amber Chronicles, and Dragonriders of Pern around that age from the family bookshelf. And, of course, grew up watching Star Trek.


message 26: by Terry (last edited May 06, 2015 01:48PM) (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments My speculative fiction has taken some radical shifts at various times.

My introduction to SFF was mostly through library reading, and thus through the canonical filter small-town librarians use to select books- Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Clement and a few others. The canon mostly consisted of American authors. Bradbury was a part of the canon, of course; The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 certainly. He was a part of the canon, but lumping him with the likes of RAH, Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke is a stretch, because his stories are nothing like any of the rest. Likewise, they’re nothing like Ballard’s. Bradbury stories- and certainly “The Veldt”- have a child-like innocence, but also a Halloween flavor, the whiff of cold October nights and things that go bump in the night. The drawing I mentioned earlier catches the mood perfectly.

In the mid 60’s, in my late teens and in the Army, I stumbled upon New Wave writers, mostly through Judith Merril’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy series, and everything I know about J. G. Ballard comes from that period. As I remember it, many of the Merril anthologies a Ballard story, and I’m sure the Vermilion Sands story “Prima Belladonna” was included.

Ballard, on the other hand, is adult, world-weary, jaded, and cynical, and the Vermilion Sands of “The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista” is a desert landscape haunted by technical ghosts.

While the house/nursery in “The Veldt” is a character, the house at 99 Stellavista, in itself, isn’t. It’s ‘psychotropic’, affecting and affected by the thoughts and moods of its former occupants, Gloria Tremane and Miles Vanden Starr, and its new occupants, the Talbots. It’s not hard to visualize the SFFnal mobile house removed and the Talbots going through the same psychodrama if they were guests at 99 Stellavista while Gloria and Miles still lived.

I think “The Veldt” is much the darker story.


message 27: by Terry (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments The discussions about literary references has me thinking about what makes the comparison of these two stories interesting. For me, it goes back to the ways we read science fiction, which has been talked about before, starting with “Meet The President” and the Samuel R. Delany quote from James Gunn’s book Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction:

Universities are filled with people who simply won't read SF. These folks suffer from nothing worse than snobbism, and their affliction doesn't really interest me. But there are many people, both in universities and out, who honestly can't read SF, which is to say they have picked up several SF stories and tried to read them, only to find that much of the text simply didn't make sense to them. Frequently these are very sophisticated readers of literary texts. Several times now I have had the chance to work with such readers reading SF texts slowly, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, checking on what has been responded to and what has not been. When you read an SF text in this way with such readers it becomes clear that their difficulty is almost entirely in their failure to create the alternate world that gives the story's incidents all their sense. While these readers have no trouble imagining a Balzac provincial printing office, a Dickens boarding school, or a Jane Austen sitting room, they are absolutely stymied by, say, the most ordinary contemporary SF writer's "monopole magnet mining operations in the outer asteroid belt of Delta Cygni." But the failure is not so much a failure of the imaginative faculties as it is a failure to respond word by word to the text.

Reading, like any good magic, changes shape as you examine it, and routinely is invisible. You drive down the highway and you see a speed limit sign, 65MPH, but you aren’t conscious of reading the sign. The words just pop into your mind, but also the meaning and associations and connotations, of law and velocity and common sense and road condition. Reading genre fiction is much the same. As Delany says, you either know how to read SF or you don’t.

SF isn’t like other genres, which are defined by their tropes (mysteries have murders and clues, romances have people finding and loosing and finding each other, etc.) SFF is more typically defined by its setting, it’s universe. But there’s more to the question, because the SFF universe isn’t always about rockets and ray guns (when it is, we expect to find it in Analog). Often the SFFnal parts are metaphors. We know that, and can tell what’s literal and what’s metaphor, because we have the science fiction reading skill set, because we’ve been reading this stuff since we were knee high.

That’s certainly the case with Bradbury’s and Ballard’s stories. The houses aren’t houses, they’re metaphors. This leads to the question, ‘metaphors of what?’ In the case of “The Veldt”, perhaps of how technology dehumanizes us by shutting down communication. I’m curious what others think of this metaphor idea, and particularly for “The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista.”


message 28: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 20 comments I've heard of readers who had to take notes to cope with a SF book. (Which is why someone trying it for the first time should either be directed toward a type of SF most like the mundane fiction he usually reads, or try a YA book.)


message 29: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 20 comments Terry wrote: "SF isn’t like other genres, which are defined by their tropes (mysteries have murders and clues, romances have people finding and loosing and finding each other, etc.) SFF is more typically defined by its setting, it’s universe."

Just because the tropes are setting doesn't mean they aren't tropes. . .

A western is also determined by its setting tropes, but on a somewhat more superficial level. While SF can usually be discerned by the superficial tropes -- two moons in the sky, purple sunlight, six-legged horses -- the fundamental premise is that appeal to the authority of science allows marvels.

Often the SFFnal parts are metaphors.

Often? Occasionally. Very occasionally. The hyperactive transformation of all the fantastical element in SF to metaphor is generally a symptom of a non-SF-reader trying to turn a work into something he can read. This is why 1984 and Brave New World are the master SF works for the non-SF-reader; they advertize their metaphoricalness on their sleeve. But then you get things like the literary critic who tried to psychoanalyze Hal Clement on basis of one of his works -- what does it show about his psyche that he had raindrops that landed in splotches miles wide and a few molecules thick? -- without it ever occurring to the critic that on the planet Clement described, that's exactly how raindrops would land.


message 30: by Terry (last edited May 08, 2015 03:45PM) (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments Mary wrote:

Just because the tropes are setting doesn't mean they aren't tropes. . .

Jo Walton points out that we can consider all of mainstream fiction as consisting of stories set in a single shared fictional universe, which we can call ‘reality’. The settings of the individual stories are just locations, sets, in that universe. The world of a science fiction or fantasy story is different in that it’s built from the ground up. Walton also points out that world building is not just something that happens in the writer’s mind and gets transferred to the page; it’s a task the reader undertakes, to ‘understand’ the universe.

As I see it, sometimes that reader understanding is specific and essential to the story, as in your Mission of Gravity example. Other times, it’s a shorthand. Walton gives the example of the tachyon drive in The Forever War- you don’t need to know how it works, you just need to know that you can travel at subjectively reasonable times but still suffer relativistic aging, so that when you go off to fight aliens and return to Earth, it’s Earth that’s now alien.

Other times, I still say, it’s a metaphor. As regard to which parts of a SFF universe should be taken literal and which metaphorically, I agree that a dragon is often just a dragon, but I think that metaphorical readings are abundant. Some authors lean that way: Phillip K. Dick, Rudy Rucker, Stanislaw Lem, Vernor Vinge, Kurt Vonnegut. And you can certainly, in my opinion, add both Bradbury’s and Ballard. In other cases, metaphor is tied to the theme of a story. A metaphor is, according to the dictionary, ‘a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else.’ Consider the Star Trek: TOS episodes such as “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” that got jabs at American society past the censors by wrapping them in SFF garb.


message 31: by Bunny (last edited May 08, 2015 01:40PM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments It doesn't have to be an either or choice you know, a metaphor or other symbolic element can and often does also work on a nuts and bolts level too. Metaphor isn't synonymous with 'not real' it's about how the element functions in the story and it can function in more than one way at the same time. In fact I like it when an element functions in more than one way at the same time, I think that can make the story more interesting.

I agree with Jo all stories take place in an imaginary universe. The author chooses which elements to include and exclude in order to create the universe that makes sense for that story and to that author. Even realistic fiction is still a shaped perception.


message 32: by Bunny (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Stellavista seems to me like a sort of SFnal ghost story, where a man becomes so obsessed with a dead woman that he turns his back on and drives away a living one.


message 33: by Terry (last edited May 09, 2015 01:15AM) (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments A ghost story? Absolutely. There’s been a murder. The protagonist’s a sleazy lawyer, who was involved in the case, and who has a thing for the movie star who lived there (and was accused of murdering her husband.) Besides, suburbs are always a bit creepy.

The house at 99 Stellavista is ‘psychotropic’, which the dictionary defines as ‘affecting mental activity, behavior, or perception, as a mood-altering drug.’ So the associations are from drug culture- considering the sixties, not so hard to understand. As the saying goes, if you can remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.

As we start program our houses with our preferences for temperature, lighting, music, and who knows what, the program is in a sense a ghost, our ghost, in the shell. If we sell the house, whoever buys it gets a whiff of our programming. Is that psychotropic? It’s like a box left in the attic- you can’t help but want to know what's inside. That ghost, by the way, is a faint semblance of the ghost we leave on Facebook or in our browser history. But that’s a different story.

Ballard seems obsessed with certain tropes, and there’s an ennui that pervades his stories. Run down clocks and watches, birds (and dead birds), drained swimming pools and abandoned buildings. And of course, Bradbury is famous for his lists as well.


message 34: by Bunny (last edited May 09, 2015 08:53AM) (new)

Bunny | 327 comments Also, to me, its the kind of ghost story where we are never quite sure if the ghost is an actual ghost or a projection of one created by the protagonist's neuroses. In this story I don't really believe that the protagonist is sensing a remnant of Gloria Tremayne in the house so much as he is making up his own story about her and the house is acting it out for him, because that's what the house does, it responds to the thoughts of the people in it. Which, honestly, sounds like a truly dreadful notion for a house. No wonder they were a fad soon abandoned.

One of the commonalities of both stories is the idea that we probably don't want a technology that makes our wishes and dreams come true, because our wishes and dreams aren't as domesticated as we might think. Which makes me think of all the three wishes folk tales where it always goes wrong.


message 35: by Terry (last edited May 09, 2015 12:06PM) (new)

Terry Cox | 125 comments This was another fun session; thanks, Misha.


We ached and almost touched that stuff;
Our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been
And touched God's cuff, His hem,
We would not have to go with them
Who've gone before,
Who, short as us, stood as they could stand
And hoped by stretching tall that they might keep their land
Their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.
But they, like us, were standing in a hole.

- Ray Bradbury


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Speculative Short Fiction Deserves Love

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Books mentioned in this topic

Brave New World (other topics)
1984 (other topics)
Green Mansions (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Hal Clement (other topics)