FIND in
<--prev V30 next-->

From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <ddanehy@siebel.com>
Subject: (urth) Singleshot: To William
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 09:38:20 

> 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" 

You're right, and you're even approximately right (in footnote) 
about the source of my confusion, though to me "the Delicate Sound
of Thunder" is a Pink Floyd live album -- didn't know there was a
related concert film.

> What makes it interesting is that it seems that Dan'l* and I are not 
> the only ones who misremember the title slightly. 

I'd almost bet that it's appeared under variant titles. I _know_
that "distant" is in there somewhere 8*)

> ... Apparently Hollywood is thinking of turning "Thunder" into
> a film, which raises some questions: Will the film get made?

In Hollywood that's always a big question.

> 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? 

Dunno. I'd keep in mind that Bradbury 
	(a) has had better luck in this regard (viz. _Fahrenheit 
	    451_, etc.) 
	(b) has, unlike PKD, a Hollywood "rep" (through his own 
	    film work), and 
	(c) is regarded as a "real writer" by the Dreaded Bicoastal
	    Litererary Establishment.

> Will any of us care either way?)

Some of us, yes.

> 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. 

So far so good. But.

First of all, we're talking a little longer ago than mice. But let
that pass; let us assume that we're talking about the small mammals,
some of them pretty mouse-like, that existed contemporaneously with
the later Age of Reptiles.

We really don't know much about them. Let's assume for convenience
that the population was actually pretty large, so your argument 
about mice being interchangeable has some validity.  

But only some. In fact, comes the Yucatan Smash, the population of
these whatever-they-are's is going to be greatly reduced in a very
short time. Did you kill the ancestor of one of the survivors? If
so, then you've significantly changed the genepool with which the
local area will begin when that big meteor hits the Restart button.
In fact, even if you didn't, by removing one competitor for resources
and its descendants, you've rearranged the pattern by which other
critters disperse and gather -- some other little mammal will eat the
stuff your mamal didn't, and so be somewhere else at a certain time;
matings will change; etc. A somewhat-different set of cute li'l
mammals will be in the right places to survive when the hammer falls.
Which means a somewhat-different set of genes to start evolving into
the Age Of Mammals[tm].

Hell, there are birds back then, too. Though I admit it's unproven,
chances are that some of them eat those mousey things. 

I repeat: what you are dismissing as the "crushed butterfly" theory
is just the _fact_ that actions have consequences, and the consequences
are unpredictable.

No. There is no guarantee that killing that butterfly in 6,000,000 
BC will cause Dan Quayle to be elected President in 1996. But 
there's no guarantee that it _won't_. The Earth is a chaotic system,
meaning "unpredictable sensitivity to starting conditions," where
"starting" means "whenever you decide to start monitoring." History
_may_ be conserved. Or it may not be.

And the greater the change, the less likely it seems that history 
will be conserved. Kill the young Hitler and WW2 (including some 
form of anti-Semitic pogroms) will probably still happen, though 
somewhat differently. Maybe there will even still be some sort of
Holocaust, and things will look fairly similar in 1945. 

(On the other hand, a somewhat-saner Fuhrer might fund research 
that leads to the discovery of the Bomb by Germany [or, who was 
it that wrote a story in which the Germans didn't get the bomb but
figured out how to use radioactive dust as a weapon of terror?
Anyway...], or have the sense not to attack Russia and Britain and
certainly not to attack both.)

But even if they look fairly similar in '45, will they look that
similar in '95? What difference will it make if Anne Frank is 
captured earlier and her diary never discovered? What difference will 
it make if Niemoller never makes his famous statement about "when 
they came for so-and-so"? What difference will it make if the Jews 
[and Gypsies and homosexuals and anyone else the Nazis don't like] 
are only imprisoned and mistreated but not systematically gassed?

I suspect the answers are "very little, fairly little, and a great
deal." But I don't know. And I certainly don't know about 2195; 
perhaps the Diary of Anne Frank will yet inspire a world-changing
religious movement. (What if the Catholic Church were to take it 
into its collective heads to canonize her as a martyr? It is not,
actually, inconceivable.)

The problem is that you're thinking of "crushed butterfly" as an
absolute; it isn't. It allows for the likelyhood that _some_ 
changes will leave history pretty much unchanged. (A hawk was
going to kill that mouse in ten minutes anyway, and that particular
hawk is actually quite well-fed, so its life is unaffected by missing
this one meal.)

And, of course, there's the third theory, which nobody seems to
have mentioned but which Wolfe (who is, after all, the nominal 
topic of this list and so has to be mentioned now and then, somehow) 
seems to subscribe to in all his timetravelling, or at least in the 
Lupiverse -- that if you travel back in time, you can't really change 
anything, because what you're doing back there you already did back 
there because if you hadn't you wouldn't be here to go back there 
and do it. Or something like that. (Except for the whole business
about earlier versions of Severian, which seem to imply that maybe
it is possible in the Lupiverse-of-discourse to change history, but 
let's not get into that, for purposes of _this_ discussion.)

> 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!

I tend to think history is mostly details. Archimedes getting
killed because some soldier didn't recognize him (or didn't
follow orders), that sort of thing. 

> 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.

With that, I agree. And to me it is a significant flaw in the book.


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

<--prev V30 next-->