30 Stories, Day 3: A Sound of Thunder

Hello, wordsmiths! Today is the third installment in my venture to read 30 short stories in 30 days with the long-term goal of improving my writing. Today I report on this:

 “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury

“Anything happens to you, we’re not responsible. … Six Safari leaders were killed last year, and a dozen hunters. We’re here to give you the severest thrill a real hunter ever asked for.”

Synopsis: A man named Eckels, two safari guides and two fellow hunters journey back sixty million years to hunt a Tyrannosaurs Rex. The hunt must be conducted with the utmost of care; Time Safari Inc. has laid out specific rules, provisions, and a literal path from which the party must not stray (not even to touch a blade of grass): to do so could alter the future drastically. As the party confronts their game, Eckels falters and stumbles off the path. The party picks up the slack and fells the beast, but one of the guides, Travis, tells Eckels he’s really stepped in it now and threatens to kill him if he changed anything. The hunters return to the future and Eckels finds a dead butterfly in the mud caked to his boots; the future changed. There is a sound of thunder: Travis making good on his word.

Favorite line: [Describing the effects of the Time Machine] “… all, everything fly back to seed, flee death, rush down to their beginnings, suns rise in western skies and set in glorious easts, moons eat themselves opposite to the custom, all and everything cupping one in another like Chinese boxes, rabbits into hats, all and everything returning to the fresh death, the seed death, the green death, to the time before the beginning.”

Observations: Bradbury writes very concisely, using vivid imagery. Check out this brief passage describing the sensation of time traveling back sixty million years in a whir:

“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.”

The Machine slowed; its scream fell to a murmur. The Machine stopped.

The sun stopped in the sky.”

Look at how short and simple those sentences are. But how much they convey! And how perfectly! I am envious of such detail and delivery.

A criticism: I find it unrealistic that Time Safari Inc., who claims to have to jump through all manner of hoops to get the government’s permission to do what they do, seems to let anyone who walks in with $10,000 go back into the past without first laying out the rules and making sure the person understands the significance of not disturbing anything. It is only after Eckels and the other two hunters have gone back that one of the leaders lectures them—and clearly, as the story plays out, that’s a little too late in the game. Now, I might be a harsher critic than the average reader, but if the whole of the story resides on a detail that lacks credibility…well, that’s something I’ll make a personal effort to avoid in my own writing.

Vocab: No new words! Interesting. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing; common language can make a story more accessible. A lesson in itself!

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