Literature / A Sound of Thunder

The year is 2055. A hunter known simply as "Eckels" prepares to take the trip of a lifetime: going back in time to the Mesozoic to hunt the greatest predators that ever lived. However, when he goes back to the Late Cretaceous he panics when confronted with a Tyrannosaurus rex, and falls off the path and crushes a butterfly, breaking some of the myriad of rules the time agency has to keep the time line from changing. When the party returns to the future, they find out that the world has changed for the worse. In the original timeline, the United States presidential election was recently won by Keith, a fairly moderate candidate, as opposed to Deutscher, a fascist extremist. However, in this changed timeline, the reverse is true (words and phrases are also spelled differently). A distraught Eckels pleads with Travis, the guide, to take him back in time and fix what he's done, but Travis, having previously warned him that it's impossible (the time machine skips over any moment in history that they've already visited), silently lifts and fires his rifle, presumably at Eckels.

First written by Ray Bradbury as a short story for Collier's magazine in 1952, "A Sound of Thunder" has become the most republished science-fiction story of all time. Its influence can be seen all over the fictional world, particularly due to its introduction of the Time Travel plot in which "small changes in the past snowball into the future". It is one of the Trope Namers for Butterfly of Doom, which is... well, exactly what it stated above. This story has also led to the creation of numerous other works, including a spin-off novel series and the short story series Rivers of Time. Oh, and a movie, released by Warner Bros. in 2005, starring Edward Burns, Ben Kingsley and Catherine McCormack, and directed by Peter Hyams. But someone else can walk you through that better than we can.

This page has some nice illustrations.

Not to be confused with the Pink Floyd live album/concert film A Delicate Sound Of Thunder.

The short story contains examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: The fascistic candidate Deutscher's name is based on the German word for German.
  • Butterfly of Doom: The Trope Namer
  • Close Enough Timeline: Travis actually theorizes about this before the hunt began.
  • Dumb Dinos: The T. rex is described as monstrous and devoid of emotion.
    • But also awesomely majestic.
  • For Want of a Nail: The seemingly inconsequential death of a prehistoric butterfly manages to result in a political victory in the modern day, while changing the basics of English grammar and graphemes.
  • Godwin's Law of Time Travel: The Ur-Example, although Deutscher is only Nazi-like rather than full-on Nazi.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Despite changing the political landscape just enough to ensure the rise of Fascism and the basic tenets of the English language, nothing else of major importance seems to have changed in the modern day. Then again, we only see a few of the changes to the modern timeline before the end of the story. . . given the obvious changes already shown, who the hell knows what else is different?
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: The travelers and their tour guides are the only ones who seem aware of the changed Bad Future.
  • Science Marches On: Numerous facts about dinosaur biology, particularly about them having two brains.
  • Stay on the Path: Or else!
  • Stock Dinosaurs: The only dinosaur that appears in the entire story is the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • A Storm Is Coming: The phrase "a sound of thunder" occurs a couple of times in the story, each time prefiguring danger.
  • Temporal Paradox: Subverted when the safari guides explain that "Time steps aside" to prevent such paradoxes from happening.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: Travis' agency organizes safaris into the past for big game hunters.
  • Title Drop: Twice in the narration.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Who thought it was a good idea to make big-game time travelling, knowing full well what the risks and consequences were? What sort of monetary gain could be worth the risk of waking up one morning to have never existed?

The spin-off novel series contains examples of:

The movie contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Turning a short story into a feature film might be a good cause for the awfulness.
  • Artistic License Biology: Where do we start!
    • Baboonasaurs, that's where. Alternately "Baboonizards." There's also the flying "Batboonizards," and "miscellaneous underwater shark-eel-thing."
    • And we continue with the claim that lions are descended from Allosaurs. Congratulations.
    • The claim that humans were "the last species to evolve." That's... nowhere NEAR how evolution works.
  • Cutting Corners: The whole situation started because of a "perfect storm" of 1) somebody panicking and stepping off the path and 2) Haddon shutting down the time machine's bio-filter (which would have prevented this) in order to save money on electricity.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: Taken to ridiculous extremes. Translucent blasts called timewaves come out of nowhere and start knocking people around. And each time they do more species become "devolved".
  • Dull Surprise: "Pierce Brosnan was originally slated to star. Unfortunately, he was replaced by a wooden marionette that looks a lot like Edward Burns." (It's a running gag on the recap seeing how his facial expressions are the same for most of the film.)
  • Sexy Man, Instant Harem: Ryer bangs a client.
  • Shout-Out: Haddon kiss-assingly compares his clients to "Columbus discovering America. Armstrong stepping on the moon. Brubaker landing on Mars". The latter is a reference to Capricorn One, Hyams' debut film, where Brubaker was the captain of a faked Mars landing.
  • Tagline: "Evolve or die" and "Some rules should never be broken".
  • Voodoo Shark: Apparently the reason big-game hunters are so eager to go back in time to hunt dinosaurs is because... wait for it... all animals are extinct in 2055. This is mentioned in one scene and then never referenced again, and doesn't explain why people wouldn't be willing to pay to use time travel for more peaceful sightseeing purposes.
    • Plot Hole: If the time waves cause existing organisms to de-evolve (we know this because that one female character turns into a white lemur thing at the last wave), and all animals were extinct by 2055 then where did the originals come from?
  • You Get What You Pay For: The boss of the safari company shutting down a key component of the time machine to save power contributed to the catastrophe at hand.

Alternative Title(s): A Sound Of Thunder