Filed under: Sci-fi, Story Sundays | Tags: a sound of thunder, butterfly effect, literature, ray bradbury, reading, sci-fi, short stories, story sunday, time travel
Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.
Ever since that 2004 Ashton Kutcher film, the idea of the butterfly effect has seemed to me a lame and overdone tool for lazy sci-fi writers. If there is anyone capable of redeeming the concept (and it doesn’t hurt that he was writing long before “the butterfly effect” took on this air of, what to call it, lameitude) it is Ray Bradbury, and he does just that in “A Sound of Thunder.”
Simple premise: Time Safari, Inc. offers its clients the opportunity to travel to any year in the past and shoot an animal of their choosing. In order to avoid needlessly disrupting the past world, the company has built floating platforms, and does recon before safaris in order to find an animal that is within minutes of its natural death. In “A Sound of Thunder” Eckels, an experienced hunter, joins two other customers, and the safari leader and his assistant, on a hunt for a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The safari leaders stress the importance of staying on the path, of shooting only the animal that has been marked for this expedition. Their warnings, though, seem as much concerned with the future of their business as with anything else:
“We don’t want to change the Future. We don’t belong here in the Past. The government doesn’t like us here. We have to pay big graft to keep our franchise. A Time Machine is finicky business. Not knowing it, we might kill an important animal, a small bird, a roach, a flower even, thus destroying an important link in a growing species.”
Bradbury is a little heavy-handed at times. When he opens the story with a discussion of the recent presidential election, you feel reasonably sure that this is going to come back up at story’s end, as it does. But he deals with the concept of the butterfly effect elegantly, and his description of the dinosaur, of Eckels’s hesitation, of the way the entire shooting expedition is over almost before it began, is enthralling. See the Tyrannosaurus Rex:
It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs. It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest. Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior. Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory, and steel mesh. And from the great breathing cage of the upper body those two delicate arms dangled out front, arms with hands which might pick up and examine men like toys, while the snake neck coiled. And the head itself, a ton of sculptured stone, lifted easily upon the sky. Its mouth gaped, exposing a fence of teeth like daggers. Its eyes rolled, ostrich eggs, empty of all expression save hunger. It closed its mouth in a death grin. It ran, its pelvic bones crushing aside trees and bushes, its taloned feet clawing damp earth, leaving prints six inches deep wherever it settled its weight.
It ran with a gliding ballet step, far too poised and balanced for its ten tons. It moved into a sunlit area warily, its beautifully reptilian hands feeling the air.
A great, fun story. Read it!