A Sound of Thunder Falls Silent: Ray Bradbury, 91

I was sitting in 7th grade English class, battling with all my will not to become Mr. Brady’s latest victim.  The heater blaring in any season, and the air kissed by the rich earthy scent of pipe smoke, sitting in his class felt like you were being licked by an evening campfire.  But if the siren song of slumber were to take you, your wake up call would invariably be a shot to the head from a book, shoe, or whatever Mr. Brady could get his hands on the moment he discovered you napping.

As the sandman beckoned, I vaguely heard Mr. Brady saying something about evocative language, using words that actually sounded.  He mumbled out some crazy term–onomatopoeia–and started slowly saying words like “crunch” and “slurp” as example.

Then he said that there was one man who used onomatopoeia better than anyone he’d ever known: Ray Bradbury.

A bell rang in the back of my head.  I was already more than a bit of a science fiction fan, but mostly of the TV/Movie variety.  I liked to read, but was not voracious about it, preferring to think of myself more as a “visual person” (a smart guy’s term for a boob tube addict).  But my Dad had been going to science fiction conventions since they first started in the 1950s, and the vague recollection of this name along side those like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov brought me out of my heat-induced catatonia.

Mr. Brady raised a copy of R is for Rocket from his desk, and promptly hurled it right at Scott Temple’s head.  Our English teacher was not a gifted athlete, but he was an ace pitcher with a book in his hand and filled with righteous indignation.  It was strike one to Temple’s temple, and my chubby namesake screeched to a start.  As always, Mr. Brady tugged at his sky-blue cardigan that had bunched up his throwing arm, sauntered casually over to where his instrument of retaliation lay, picked it up, and returned to his accustomed spot in the front of the room.

He then took a long, satisfying drag from his Holmes-like pipe and leafed open the book.  He pushed his reading glasses slightly down his nose and began to read:

A Sound of Thunder, by Ray Bradbury

The next 20 minutes changed my life.

This short story, the one that coined the phrase “The Butterfly Effect” combined time travel, dinosaurs, and the infinite complexities of the universe into one small, gripping tale.  Oh, yes, and it has plenty of onomatopoeia, too.  It was also the first example I can remember of reading (or hearing) the use of dramatic irony in a story.  Mr. Brady and Ray Bradbury opened the world of words to me that day, and I cannot thank either of them enough.

Of course, Bradbury’s works are not limited to short tales, and his brilliant use of allegory in Fahrenheit 451 is example of what science fiction can be when it is at its very best—a window onto the troubles, tragedies, triumphs, and potential in our own world.  And whether it was the truly fantastic tales of The Martian Chronicles, or truly personal accounts of love, loss, and redemption like Something Wicked This Way Comes, Bradbury showed me—and the entire world—how the limitless power of the human imagination can speak so truly to our own realities.

Thank you Ray Bradbury.  Your sound of thunder will ring in my ears, my mind, and my soul until I join you for whatever comes next.

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