'Fahrenheit 451' was justifiably a choice for required reading in my junior high school, so I'd read it as an assignment. It was great, but I liked true Sci-Fi (complete with Robots, Dinosaurs, and Spaceships) over any other genre, so when I saw a little paperback book of collected Bradbury short stories with the title 'Dino Tales' at a local used book store, I bought it for around 10 cents.
It included what instantly became my favorite short story, entitled 'A Sound of Thunder'. Although I read the entire book, I liked this story so well that I often muse to myself that it should have been the title of the whole book. It was excellent.
I still place 'A Sound of Thunder' atop my list of favorite science fiction short-stories--above those written by Heinlen, Asimov, and other greats--the best of the hundreds of Sci-Fi short stories I have enjoyed through the years, by dozens of different authors.
The original short story was as awesome, inventive, exciting, and chillingly-rendered message as I ever saw created for the Sci-Fi genre.
Soberingly and ominously detailed, with expert foreshadowing, complete with an original 'twist' ending rivaling any of the construed, predictable ones we have since, it describes a business far into the future which can provide any man rich enough with the actual experience of hunting a real, live dinosaur, complete with 'the kill', and bragging photos.
The story was influential as one of the 'best' versions of a common fantasy among anyone who ever imagined what a real dinosaur even looked like, while involving also the more hidden, dangerous, and perhaps selfish fantasies surrounding what one would do if they ever actually had to 'see one'.
In other words--once the self-indulgent fantasy was carefully laid aside--what we'd do if we were actually in the awesome presence of say, one 'terrible lizard' (and I'm not talking about Larry King, Sally Jessie Rafael, or your politician of preference).
What we'd do, aside from "RUN!", that is; and moreover, what would happen as a result, even laying out some speculation about the future of what we did in such a situation, especially a repeatable, even dare-say 'commercially-available' one, as depicted in the story.
Nobody can argue that it was simple, eloquent, and beautiful--the clearest part being it's openly, 'eco-friendly' warning, long before such language was entered into the American lexicon as it is today.
Ironically it was so far ahead of its time that a movie of it couldn't be made for decades. It would have looked dumb (but unfortunately not as dumb as it looked when it finally did come out in 2005).
|'Are these some kind of DARPA thing?'|
(final scene from 'The Mission' episode, Amazing Stories)
The premise of this story is a deceptively appealing one: at some point in the future, anyone (with the surreal bankroll) can go on a real safari-type hunting expedition, into the past, to play out their very own 'Big Game' fantasies in the time-honored tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, Allan Quatermain, and all the old 'Great White' hunters--except in this trip, you'll be hunting actual, real, living dinosaurs, via time-travel, only recently mastered, and involving tons of other potentially legal, personal, and ecological stakes.
For example, you can't bring anything back--no trophies--except for pics. No blood swaths for DNA verification, even. Whether or not an oversight at the time it was written, DNA testing and actual sample verification was a highly speculative field of study for another years, until the present day.
Other examples of 'No-Go's':
- The dino's ear-shattering road reminds you of your mother-in-law...it's 'Not Okay' to carve the full record of her previous married names into the T-Rex's open, bleeding jawline after the kill...and not just because 'it wouldn't be sporting', or 'his dentist would be more harried than usual', either.
- Say you get a 'quirky hankering' to sneak a small 'time-capsule' back into the Mesozoic era, which might contain selected favorites from your WWII-era 'Walking Liberty' antique silver half-dollar collection, a keychain with your high school logo and mascot on it, or perhaps even a locket with a cameo of 'your sweetie' inside it; this notion is a big 'red flag', and will get you ousted from the hunt during the initial pre-launch inspection (which all policy makers hope is remembered);
- This one may be a 'reach'...but lessay, somebody has a 'sci-fi' buff for a buddy, who dares you to take along a rare but, say, poisonous, and quickly-reproducing spider, or worse, an egg-casing of such...or worst of all, a type of hardy bedbug that would settle nicely enough to impress even Loki, the Norse god of mischief...you're out, your buddy's out, and we'll research and work to ban anyone on your Facebook 'friends' list six-times removed, into the millions. We'll do it...don't press us.
- and don't even think about carving your favorite Fantasy Football team's logo into anything...we know what that looks like--we've noted your "I 'heart' Yankees' Genuine Team Logo Cap", and that's all we have to say on the subject.
All for good reason.
In fact, it is 'presented' to the client, that "really, it's 'best' if you don't actually even pick your nose or breathe the wrong way' while 'on safari'". You certainly can't leave anything behind, either--and "No, carving your name into the tree just off the trail is not 'ok', either, no matter what you read in the reviews online'". Things--even little, otherwise totally, inconceivably tiny things--be they nouns OR verbs--can have astronomically huge [read catastrophic] effects on the future as we know it now.
So...'again'--it's like 'TS, Inc.' is saying "it's better that our 'clients' aren't left to their imaginations, and things proceed on a nominally-acceptable schedule, even if that seems a little preconceived, choreographed...we can't warn you enough, our concerns are so huge, you can't even conceive of the smallest of them...and oh--this is supposed to be your vacation'.
Time to consider that hefty ominous foreshadowing I mentioned above.
In fact, 'Time Safari, Inc.' has not only 'done the math', but also taken into account some more difficult aspects of such a visit, such as laying an actual suspended pathway right in the known path of the Rex, in an area he hasn't been in awhile (so as not to spook the big fella), and always sends along supposedly well-trained, crack shots in the inevitability that nervous clients wet their pants and 'oopsie' that ever-important initial salvo, and so become potentially--er, 'chummy' with ol' T.R., (who apparently isn't being reimbursed for that sickening worst-case of animal deja-vu in history).
But, just like any human beings, these chaperones aren't exactly perfect themselves (or maybe they aren't being paid enough to be). So, we learn in this story, things can, did, and so, will forever 'go awry' (did you get that little piece of writing there)?
But like 'Time Safari, Inc.' always says..."NEXT!"
Even though 'clients' are outfitted with what amounts to an elephant-gun on steroids (read the following excerpt from the original story)...
"Can these guns get a dinosaur cold?" Eckels felt his mouth saying....we're eventually, darkly, reminded, that this short piece of Sci-Fi relates to us the 'worst-case'...unfortunately for all involved (and--'SPOILER ALERT'--inclusively, all those not even remotely involved).
"If you hit them right," said Travis on the helmet radio. "Some dinosaurs have two brains, one in the head, another far down the spinal column. We stay away from those. That's stretching luck. Put your first two shots into the eyes, if you can, blind them, and go back into the brain."
The Machine howled. Time was a film run backward. Suns fled and ten million moons fled after them. "Think," said Eckels. "Every hunter that ever lived would envy us today. This makes Africa seem like Illinois."
Working our way back through some good historic examples, it's like...
- Captain 'Sully' Sullenberger had said "Jersey!? Jeez, I hate Jersey...but...oh, alright...here goes nu'in...everybody grab those ankles!"; OR,
- Al Gore had won the recount; OR,
- Hitler's mom had opted for an abortion; OR,
- the light bulb hadn't been invented; or better yet, it was, but used a Uranium filament because 'it glows longer, for some reason'; OR,
- America had been 'discovered' by actual, real, space aliens (as in, little green ones); OR,
- Jesus had been abandoned by Joseph for 'personal' reasons; OR,
- the inventor of the wheel had been more interested in 'hair products'; OR,
- [God--however you name him] had been too busy playing video games to 'create the universe' (aww, mom!);
The original story (read it at this link) was incredibly brief--in compendium format, around five printed pages--yet truly fascinating, richly-complex, and (at the risk of sounding cliched) masterfully conceived and written. To me, it represents Bradbury's magnum opus, one of the finest stories in all of science fiction.
Again, all this, in less than 10 pages, an easier read than even this blog, by far.
As the original story plays out, one wonders what the inevitable stakes will be, and how they will take place, and you get the feeling that they may even be irreversible. Certain scenes portray 'certain' societal conditions before the fateful trip, and after. That's all I'll say (if you can't read this one, it's remedial English 'til you can--and it would be worth it for this story alone).
In 'A Sound of Thunder', Bradbury actually created one of the earliest Sci-Fi versions of a concept of modern scientific thought now known as the 'Butterfly Effect'.
The 'Butterfly Effect' is one of the most widely recognized and shared concepts among several major schools of modern ideas, not just in science fiction, but in modern thought among metaphysics scholars, historians, physics scholars, even theologians and chaos theorists. The concept is not only still very alive today, but actually one of the more commonly-referenced ideas among all these schools of thought, among their largest lexicon of shared concepts and general ideas.
The idea, or ideas, behind the 'Butterfly Effect' can't be said to be Bradbury's sole invention: actually, the 1st widely-distributed literary version was H.G. Wells' classic 'The Time Machine'. But let me say it here: Bradbury was to the 'Butterfly Effect' as Edison was to the light bulb as we know it today--he basically packaged this extraordinary concept in one of it's earliest literary forms ever printed, and did so in a way as to make it much more readily available to the consumer of the day. He streamlined this idea for mass consumption as it were, making sure to hold true to the important parts of the idea. The Butterfly Effect, as packaged and presented in his story 'A Sound of Thunder', was as important to the perpetuation of this self-perpetuating, inventive concept as the UL Listing is to any light bulb we use today (that, plus the mass production of it, of course).
Wow. That's some good story-writing, and one of the best examples of one of the best Science Fiction minds that has existed so far.
By comparison, ask about Stephen King's literary legacy, and you get something akin to 'record use of unnecessary profanity', 'modern cultural references', 'over-visitation of vulgarly taboo and obscene literary devices', finishing up lastly with 'straight-to-DVD over-commercialization of the horror-genre so profane that it alone can cause nightmares'.
In fact, pick any other Sci-Fi writer, and it's just as hard to see any of them with the overall effect that Bradbury's immense volume of thought-producing stories had on ideas so entrenched in our modern day schema that we may never even know their full extent. The influence of Bradbury's writing is that far-reaching--across the genres--it's biblically, epicly, monumentally, fundamentally, incomprehensibly, axiomatically, absolutely, irrefutably, true.
Now, that really does take skill and creativity. He was really a genius who happened to love the art of telling great stories. One of the best. But his greatest gift was his rare, unique ability to simply tell a story--even a very difficult-to-relate one--with a simple, beautiful elegance and wit, depicting the finer aspects of each character within, without losing any part of the entire message secreted inside each of his rare gems.
His marvelous stories could easily be deemed parables--none of them were written for a reaction, but instead, each it's own rare artifact, as if Bradbury wrote each one as a message in a bottle to himself.
He excelled at revealing small, previously-hidden portions of himself in each of his stories, and each part of him was one in a long string of hidden gemstones. With this literary legacy, he seemed to have given himself over to the absolute integrity of his stories, writings, and ideas, all as carefully crafted as the most intricate and valued Faberge Egg, yet each given to his readers with the calm reference of a remotely-perched monk-scribe, as if he was determined that he leave nothing undone or imperfect in each; as if to avoid re-writing them in some post-apocalyptic, self-imposed solitude, in some other dimension where he'd be granted all the time in the world, and inclination, and the spark.
|"Don't Listen to that last guy--I'm the one who'll be back"|
It brought the somewhat difficult phenomena (especially as it is verbalized by scientists) into such vernacular use that it made possible many more depictions of the self-same effect, including the series starring Ashton Kutcher.
A whole plethora of alternate universe concepts created by the Sci-Fi genre is also grounded on the concept that changing something in the past can adversely affect the future.
To many who consider that just 'responsibility', 'sensible', and 'common sense', well...of course, it was.
The thing is, these intrinsic values seemed to be missing from the Sci-Fi genre until Bradbury.
Many time-travel, and morality, concepts created by different Sci-Fi authors over the years, were based entirely on Bradbury's storytelling. In fact, it would be harder to find a Sci-Fi author who didn't owe something to Bradbury, than not. Nearly impossible, and that's no fiction.
Even the latest Star Trek movie in that long and storied franchise built heavily on it, with Spock actually meeting himself several times, and, at the end of the movie, having this playful verbal joust with himself.
|"Live long and...Hey, if you're my 'future self', can you|
give me the spread on the next 20 SuperBowls?"
Bradbury lent this kind of understanding to all his stories--but most memorably, to me, this one.
Unfortunately, his wonderful story was absolutely obliterated in its movie rendering.
|Is it a disaster movie? Or a movie disaster?|
With scenes like this, you can guess.
Worse, the movie bombed, and not due to competition, either.
The eloquent little story simply hadn't been penned with a near-two-hour, grinding, monotonous, farce in mind, and it was obvious to anyone who watched it. It was one of the worst screen adaptations of any Sci-Fi story in existence, and I hate to say it while reminiscing, but to all who read the original story, the movie was a real shit-sandwich.
|"Let us operate under the pretense|
that we are not killing this movie."
The movie felt as though it had been hacked together like some bizarro-version of the original, with scenes spliced together by some IBM mainframe with a name running at unprecedented megaflops to push it into production before word could get out how bad it was.
Worst of all, you get the feeling that maybe even the computer splicing this monstrosity together should have known how awful this thing would stink.
With this worst-kind of Hollywood greed ruining it far worse than any of the monsters depicted in the movie itself, the movie had the genuine look and feel of an actual turd in a punch-bowl (although I can't claim to know the look and feel of either).
'A Sound of Thunder' was released as a sparklingly tedious, 1 hour 50 min. long, rife with hackneyed movie devices and characters, and strayed so far from the original story as to lose the entire message in a murky, tiresome, epic, CGI fail...one of the best examples of a poor adaptation ever in Sci-Fi movie history.
The movie was poorly cast with a motley combination of unknowns, over-actors, and forgettables (and that includes the one 'major player'--Ben Kingsley--whose portrayal of the greedy Time Safari CEO was so awful that his lines could have been randomly selected from a box full of cut-up Mad Libs books and been an improvement).
Even with the blatant obscuring of the original intended message, the movie still covers the idea behind 'The Butterfly Effect' crudely. In fact, the over explanation of this easily-grasped idea is actually over-explained to the point it's offensive to the viewer--overkill taken to the power of '11', as in 'Spinal Tap'.
|"This amp goes to eleven..you know, to compensate|
for the lack of cowbell"
Long after we forget the movie version, however, we'll still have the original story with us as a masterful example of the American science fiction short-story at its best. The message certainly wasn't lost in the original, nor did Bradbury's style overburden his intent to the point it made the story unreadable or forgettable. It was perfect. And, as writers go--so was he.
Which raises yet another eternal question: 'What would we have been like without him? How much less would humanity be, as a mass of intelligent, sensitive, and caring people, without Bradbury's technical brilliance, his expertise in his forte, and his affection for the very art he produced so well? What would we be doing, how would we be affected, as we go forward into our collective future, without his thoughtful, inspired, mind, and his prodigious, provocative, and wondrously imaginative body of peerless work?
Let's hope his contribution won't be lost in time. We should hope we never lose anything we glean from his inspired, haunting scenarios, that primed our minds for a better future, especially knowing ourselves, and the potential worst-case scenarios.
Let's hope we can progress without losing ourselves, our humanity, and what makes us better...
|Lest we ourselves never hear the impending Sound of Thunder.|