FIND in
<--prev V30 next-->

From: William Ansley <wansley@warwick.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) Son of Scattered Shots
Date: Mon, 06 Aug 2001 00:51:48 

At 10:48 AM -0700 8/3/01, Dan'l Danehy-Oakes wrote:
>It's easy to dismiss this as "the crushed butterfly theory,"
>a name that clearly derives from Bradbury's "The Delicate Sound
>of Thunder."

This is interesting. When I read the above title, I said to myself, 
"No, that's not it. It's 'The Sound of Distant Thunder'."

But I thought I had better confirm the title before I posted 
anything. And I couldn't. The actual title is "A Sound of Thunder" 
which is found in the collection _R is for Rocket_ by Ray Bradbury.

What makes it interesting is that it seems that Dan'l* and I are not 
the only ones who misremember the title slightly. While I was 
searching the Internet in an attempt to confirm my recollection, I 
found people who recalled it as "A/The Sound of Distant Thunder" and 
"A/The Distant Sound of Thunder."

Although the story made quite an impression on me when I first read 
it when I was quite young, I have to say that I now regard the 
premise as almost completely flawed.

Below is a long quote from the story that explains the premise. This 
is from <http://filmforce.ign.com/articles/36294p1.html> (Apparently 
Hollywood is thinking of turning "Thunder" into a film, which raises 
some questions: Will the film get made? If it does, will it bear as 
little resemblance to the original story as _Total Recall_ did to the 
Philip K. Dick story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" that it 
was based on? Will any of us care either way?)

However, as we all know, going back in time is a risky proposition, 
as Eckels' guide, Travis, explains: "Say we accidentally kill one 
mouse here. That means all the future families of this one particular 
mouse are destroyed, right?...And all the families of the families of 
the families of that one mouse! With a stamp of your foot, you 
annihilate first one, then a dozen, then a thousand, a million, a 
billion possible mice!...Well, what about the foxes that'll need 
those mice to survive? For want of ten mice, a fox dies. For want of 
ten foxes a lion starves. For want of a lion, all manner of insects, 
vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and 
destruction. Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty-nine million 
years later, a caveman, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes 
hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food. But you, friend, 
have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one 
single mouse. So the caveman starves. And the caveman, please note, 
is not just any expendable man, no! He is an entire future nation. 
 From his loins would have sprung ten sons. From their loins one 
hundred sons, and thus onward to a civilization. Destroy this one 
man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. It 
is comparable to slaying some of Adam's grandchildren. The stomp of 
your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of 
which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their 
very foundations. With the death of that one caveman, a billion 
others yet unborn are throttled in the womb. Perhaps Rome never rises 
on its seven hills. Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only 
Asia waxes healthy and teeming. Step on a mouse and you crush the 
Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand 
Canyon, across Eternity. Queen Elizabeth might never be born, 
Washington might not cross the Delaware, there might never be a 
United States at all. So be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step 
off!" Needless to say, Eckels does "step off the path" with chilling 

(The whole story is on line here 
<http://www.sba.muohio.edu/snavely/415/thunder.htm>. What copyright 
violations or that lack thereof may be involved, I have no idea.)

Anyway, here's the flaw. If you kill a mouse or any other animal** in 
the past, you will wipe out all of its descendents, perhaps many 
billions of mice, if you are far enough back in time. But will this 
cause an avalanche of changes to thunder down the corridors of time? 
I don't think so. More of the descendants of all of the other 
contemporaneous mice will live and the mouse population will will be 
virtually (or even absolutely) unchanged, so the mouse predators and 
those who prey on them will see no difference. Mice are pretty much 
interchangeable, at least as food, so, unless you kill the "first" or 
the only mouse (or a mouse that is unique in some other way), it 
really won't make much of a difference.

Now we would like to think that all human beings are unique, and 
certainly killing a person rather than a mouse would seem to have a 
much greater potential for changing history, but I think in most 
cases that that same argument can be applied. History will be 
conserved***, but at least some of the individuals involved will be 
different and the details will very probably be different as well!

So, Pullman's alternate world which is so completely different from 
ours in so many ways but still has a recognizable Oxford in it and a 
John Calvin, still in a prominent, church-related role, strikes me as 
being just plain silly.


William Ansley

*Dan'l, there was a Pink Floyd concert film released in 1989 called 
"Delicate Sound of Thunder". Might you have been thinking of this?

**The creature actually killed in the story was a butterfly, hence 
the name "the crushed butterfly theory."

***How many of you remember Fritz Leiber's "Law of Conservation of 
Reality"? This was a definite attempt to counter "the crushed 
butterfly theory."

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

<--prev V30 next-->