Transwarp Tuesday! A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

The Butterfly Effect

 

ray bradbury stories vol 1When I asked for recommendations at the start of this little sci-fi series, nearly everyone who replied mentioned Ray Bradbury, so I promptly acquired Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 1 – a nice self-explanatory title if ever I heard one! There are 100 stories in this massive book (apparently he published over 500 stories in total) plus an introduction by Bradbury himself, in which he kindly tells us how amazingly exceptional and talented he is. A quick search on the internet provided innumerable lists of ‘best Bradbury stories’, many of which are included in this collection, resulting in my choice for this week’s…

TRANSWARP TUESDAY!

* * * * * * * * *

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

 

When time-travel becomes a reality, a company sets up hunting trips that go back to the age of the dinosaurs. But they must operate under strict rules to ensure that they do nothing in the past that may affect the future – their present. And so they carefully research the animals to ensure that their customers are only allowed to kill them just before they were due to die anyway. But on one particular trip to hunt and kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the hunters, Eckles, is so overcome at the sight of the monstrous creature that he panics and steps off the path, unintentionally killing a butterfly…

Eckles glanced across the vast office at a mass and tangle, a snaking and humming of wires and steel boxes, at an aurora that flickered now orange, now silver, now blue. There was a sound like a gigantic bonfire burning all of Time, all the years and all the parchment calendars, all the hours piled high and set aflame.

Illustration By Franz Altschuler - Playboy June 1956
Illustration By Franz Altschuler – Playboy June 1956

The first remarkable thing about this story is that it precedes by several years the use of the phrase ‘Butterfly Effect’ to describe the implication within Chaos Theory that small changes in initial conditions lead to large differences in later states. It’s endlessly interesting (to me) to see the perpetual intertwining of sci-fi and real science, and how the two have cross-propagated over the years. Many scientists acknowledge how influenced they have been by sci-fi – either inspired as a child to become a scientist, or later, feeling the challenge of seeing if they can prove or even replicate some of the ideas of the sci-fi writers. In reverse, the best of the sci-fi writers work within the realms of the possible, however remotely, and play with the cutting edge ideas coming out of contemporary science. I don’t know if there is a direct link between this story and the naming of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ but it’s a signal of how sci-fi and science are often following parallel paths, and a sign of how important imagination is in both.

A_Sound_Of_Thunder_2005_Poster

The jungle was high and the jungle was broad and the jungle was the entire world forever and forever. Sounds like music and sounds like flying tents filled the sky, and those were pterodactyls soaring with cavernous gray wings, gigantic bats out of a delirium and a night fever.

The second remarkable thing is how often the basic premise of the story has been repeated in subsequent sci-fi – it’s often difficult to remember when reading something that sounds a little clichéd that it would have seemed a much more original idea at the time. I found that Bradbury perhaps explained a little too much and didn’t leave space between the ‘facts’ for the reader’s imagination to run free, but again I suspect this is a result of my familiarity with the sci-fi paradoxes of time-travel and the dangers of changing the past, a familiarity I doubt I would have had to the same degree back in 1952 when the story was first published.

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.

Illustration by Moebius
Illustration by Moebius

The descriptive writing is little short of brilliant, conveying strong visual images and building an atmosphere of horror as the Tyrannosaur approaches. Eckles’ terror becomes entirely understandable and as his panic disrupts the planned execution of the dinosaur, the hunt descends into a frantic and bloody scramble for self-preservation. And, as we suspected, on their return to their own time, the death of the butterfly has caused the world to change…

Ray Bradbury plus scary cat...
Ray Bradbury plus scary cat…is it from another dimension?

An excellent introduction to Bradbury’s short stories – now I just need to find time to read the other 99!

Little Green Men Rating: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

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45 thoughts on “Transwarp Tuesday! A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

  1. My dad was a huge SF fan, and he dragged me along whether I would or no. I think my favorite SF author is Isaac Asimov. He was another prolific writer. I mostly know Bradbury through The Twilight Zone. I think succeeding SF authors spoiled me for Bradbury. I did like the butterfly part of the story.

    • I read tons of Asimov in my youth, and occasionally re-read one. There’s no doubt about his impact on both sci-fi and science – particularly in robotics. The book of Michio Kaku’s I recently reviewed, about the future of the mind, talked about the real life possibility of replicating Asimov’s positronic brain, so he’s still being influential today. I don’t really know Bradbury much at all, except for Fahrenheit 451, but I enjoyed this one.

      • I read a lot of Asimov. Apparently, that man did nothing but lock himself in a room and type. But I’ve had a few ah-ha moments when I’ve read about real life breakthroughs that Asimov was writing about a very long time ago.

        Fahrenheit is the only story of Bradbury’s that I’ve read – I enjoyed it.

  2. FictionFan – Oh, I remember that story! I think it’s an excellent integration of character and of course the sci-fi element. I think it’s got a fascinating discussion too of the whole question of the way one little choice or incident can change so much. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Thanks, Margot – yes, most enjoyable. But I went on to dip into a few more and really loved his story of The Fog Horn – do you know it? Not really sci-fi (which is why I chose this one instead) but some fantastic descriptive writing and quite moving.

  3. Now I wonder how that dadblame butterfly affected the future! This seems like a neat story overall, I think.

    But, you know, I’m not sure a dying good dinosaur would be much good. It’s either really old, or it’s dying from a disease. Not a good specimen, do you think?

    At least Ray liked A Princess of Mars. I never liked his stories, him, or his cat.

    • Aha! Well, you’ll have to read it to find out! And his other 499 stories too…

      It wasn’t about to die from natural causes – it was about to have a horrific accident. No, it was a full-size adult T Rex in its prime – terrifying! And he described it really well. But I hated the idea of them just arriving in the past, shooting it and then going away again – it hardly seemed like a glorious hunt…I kinda wanted the dinosaur to win…

      Hmm…I know nothing about him. Why don’t you like him? And why don’t you like his cat? (What cat?)

  4. I loved that story, and while I was not actually reading Bradbury in the fifties, I was in the sixties and you are quite right in thinking that these ideas which are commonplace now were new and exciting then. I remember reading dozens of stories about the time paradox, and spending quite a lot of time speculating on “what if”. Enjoy the other 99.

    • I think I’ll have to save most of the collection for when I retire from blogging – feeding the beast doesn’t allow much time for all these short story collections I’ve acquired. But I did read another couple of these, and enjoyed them too – not always sci-fi though, more fantasy or just fiction even. Yes, time of writing is always something that has to be borne in mind with sci-fi – it’s one of the few genres where I tend to look at publication dates and try to remember what was going on at that time…

  5. I like you idea of reading and reviewing one story at a time ( I guess ) That means you have another 99 reviews from this one collection. Mmmm, I don’t think I could do it, but I’ll keep my eyes open, looking for them.

    • Thanks! But I only select a story or two to review to sample the author, so probably won’t be reviewing much more from Bradbury in this section even though he’s so prolific. I just do the short story thing ‘cos I can’t read enough full-length books to feed the blog-beast! And because it sometimes sets me off to read more of the author’s books…

  6. Properly scary those quoted bits:

    folding its delicate watchmaker’s claws close to its oily reptilian chest.

    was a particularly HORRID condensation of descriptors for me and made me imagine the precision with which those awful claws might pluck and pierce tender flesh , crushingly held to that ghastly oily reptitlian……….its daylight, I feel very scared, and young oily green font for the excerpts, next to that magnificently nastily green picture with the rearing giant head of the beast………..oh dear, oh dear – FAR more porpentiny than most modern horror stuff.

    Have just looked outside into the jungle green……no sign of oily reptiles so far (no UKIP stalwarts due to visit the area) and no dinosaurs with massive meat ivory and steel mesh thighs either. The world is safe, at least for now

    • They’re great, arent they? The description of the dinosaur goes on far too long for me to have included the whole quote, but it’s great – you really get a visual picture of the thing and feel the terror! And the lovely thing about these sci-fi classics is the proliferation of illustrations and fan-art…fun looking them up.

      And don’t be too confident about the world being safe – a man from the future may be stepping on a butterfly in the past even as we speak… 😯

          • Oh well, more kudos to you for the finding of corking ones. I particularly appreciated that steamy green jungle, with the tiny tiny ant sized people and those huge THINGS rearing out of the green above them. I bet the butterflies were rottweiler size too with a suddenly developed taste for time travelling human eyeballs.

            • Yes, I liked that one too. There’s always loads on the Deviant Art site too, but quite often I can’t work out whether they’re happy to allow them to be used, so tend not to unless it’s explicitly stated.

  7. Well I do like the sound of this one. The one thing that does fascinate me is the effects of the past on the future including the whole butterfly-effect stuff. i also love the descriptions you have picked out, plenty there to paint a really good scene, and quite scary too. So maybe this is one I should try? 😉

  8. Some people talk about the “collective conscious” or the “hundredth monkey syndrome” or even “memes’ that cause people to think similar thoughts at the same time. Perhaps this is the phenomenon you are describing. I think my husband has read these stories ad enjoyed them. I’ll stick with different fare.

    • Yes, I think it may be – everyone concentrating on the same subject but looking at it in different ways according to their own mindset. The theory being, I suppose, that if Einstein hadn’t come up with the old relativity thing, someone else would have. Hmm…now that’s another challenge! While I’m trying to persuade Cleo to dip her toe into sci-fi waters, I’ll need to see if I can’t find something that might appeal to you too… 😉

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