In 1952, Ray Bradbury published a short story called “A Sound of Thunder”. The tourist, Eckles, takes a time travel journey to the age of the dinosaurs in search of a Tyrannosaurus rex. He was ordered not to deviate from the constructed pathway and not to touch or harm anything. Eckles could only shoot the specific creature that had been marked for the hunt by the time travel agency, because that particular animal would die of some accidental cause, anyway.
While applying to take the journey he made small-talk about the just completed Presidential Election. They both felt relief that candidate Keith had won because his opponent, Deutscher, would have enabled a fascist dictatorship.
The tourists arrive and soon Eckles is mesmerized by the enormous dinosaur. Eckles states that he does not wish to participate in the hunt. He wanders off the path while the other tourists kill the dino. The tour director scolds Eckles and orders him to recover the bullets from the fallen T-Rex. The group returns to the future.
It is then that Eckles notices that the office surroundings are subtly different. He looks at the bottom of his boot and notices that he had crushed a butterfly. In a panic, Eckles asks about the election. He finds out that the fascist Deutscher was the winner. After pleading to return to the past in order to remedy things, Eckels waits while the tour director readies a gun to execute him. The gun safety is clicked and is soon followed by a sound of thunder.
“A Sound of Thunder” has haunted my memory ever since I first read it as a college literature assignment. The tale ranks high in my personal science fiction ratings next to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. The difference between the two stories is that Bradbury describes a journey to the past, whereas Wells describes traveling to the future.
Regarding such science fiction marvels such as anti-gravity, intergalactic travel, and teleportation, time travel is probably the most popular public fantasy. Who hasn’t at least wished they could go back in time to correct an embarrassing error or to meet a famous person from history? Aren’t we curious about what marvels or horrors await humanity in the future? The mind boggles at the possible scenarios.
Albert Einstein compared time to a river. That is, it meanders, slows down in places, and speeds up in other places. Physicists theorize that, like a river, time has eddies and whirlpools. It may fork into multiple streams, create oxbow islands and can be bent backwards and forwards along the way. Due to these traits, time travel is theoretically possible.
This leaves us wondering how and when it will be possible for people to become time tourists. Will there be failsafe technology to prevent accidental or deliberate changes to past events? What types of precautions will be necessary for travel to the future?
If indeed, time tourism becomes viable, where are the visitors from the future? I posit that they have already arrived. It’s just that they have been sworn to secrecy and are not to alter any aspect of their past. We probably encounter them in daily life. Who is not to say that the timid part time office temporary employee isn’t a covert time tourist? What about the anonymous supervisors who stand around watching road workers repair potholes on the street? What if the lizard people are really time tourists? Who knows absolutely that such possibilities are not true?
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author, entrepreneur, and podcaster, James Altucher. “Don’t time travel into the past, roaming through the nuances as if they can change. Don’t bookmark pages you’ve already read.”