Posts Tagged ‘The Sound of Thunder’

Philip K Dick: Dr Futurity

November 20, 2018

51tKs5cNy0L._AC_US160_My copy tells me it’s 35 years since I last read this one – what sort of a fan am I? And at that rate, will I ever find the time to read it again?

Once again we drop straight into the story and a future world is swiftly sketched in via self-driving cars (this was 1957, remember!) and a few other small details; Dickis particularly good at dropping in an unfamiliar name for a new object as a way of instantly moving time forward. Name the object and tell us what it does, integrate it into the narrative and assume the reader will just go along with it, in a reversal of a Brechtian verfremdungseffekt. It’s another technocratic society and the issue is who’s in control, just as in the previous novel.

However, this novel is where Dick plays seriously with time travel, and he doesn’t pussy-foot around as some writers do: we end up with multiple time-travel event and attempts to alter the past, potentially conflicting with each other. This is a trope familiar to all readers of science fiction, famously crystallised in a Ray Bradbury story The Sound of Thunder.

The plot is therefore complex and confusing at times, and if you sat down to analyse and make sense of it, it probably wouldn’t: here at work together are both the writer’s verve and his relative immaturity, I feel. In a way which resembles the satirical critique of society in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, here we have a doctor transported into a future where being ill and healing the sick are criminal offences, a society where there is a sense of collective immortality and a constant drive to improve the species… in the end, I decided that the story itself was bonkers if I took it too seriously, and that it was the ideas and the scope of Dick’s imagination that was awesome. For instance, what would the present-day world be liked if white man had never taken over North America? Dare to imagine, as Dick does.

There are two groups in conflict, both going back in time and trying to alter the future – i.e. their present – it does become quite dizzying towards the end! And I also found, as in the previous novel, that as he moves towards his ending, Dick’s faith in ordinary humans and their inherent decency comes to the fore. I’m glad I revisited the novel.

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Ray Bradbury: The Golden Apples of the Sun

November 26, 2014

9780380730391A collection of short stories, which I’ve reread, trying to work out whether I really rate him any more.  There are some surprises here – an eye-opening glimpse into the race-relations issues in the 1950s US, and a very prescient story which seems to address today’s issues about omnipresent and intrusive social media communications. Then there is the very famous time-travel story, The Sound of Thunder, which explores the idea that going back into the past – if it were possible – would be very dangerous, because of the possibility of a chain-reaction in changes to that past. I shan’t say any more lest you haven’t come across this story, which is one of the classics of the genre, and has been anthologised many times.

Bradbury is big on Mars – we need to remember that the Soviet Union hadn’t launched the first space craft when most of these stories were written – and the possibilities of colonising another planet and emigrating to it. He links this in to the old frontier days of the early United States. I’m planning to read his collection The Martian Chronicles next, as my final catch-up with him.

There’s an awful lot of dross, though. Stories written by the word to make money, published in long-dead magazines, with magic, witches and the twee-ness of small-town American life presented in a very saccharine or maudlin manner. And then there’s the Cold War, always lurking in the background, always ready to leap into Hot War unexpectedly. This last is a more convincing and genuine recurrent theme, though others have developed it better, I feel. I’m beginning to feel that Bradbury is now a name to which readers pay reverence as a pioneer of the SF genre, and the SF story in particular, without necessarily being all that familiar with much of his work, and that he will eventually fade into obscurity.

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