2016 may just go on record as the weirdest year I’ve seen. It started with the devastating losses of David Bowie and Prince, saw the serious candidacy of Donald Trump, and continues to have people of all ages and lifestyles walking around trying to catch Pokemon.
Just the other day I heard a story about the U.S. government approving a robot landing on the moon from a private company. It’s not entirely out of nowhere, but I keep having to remind myself that this is the world that we live in.
But that’s not as startling as the other story, about the National Institutes of Health lifting a moratorium on experiments involving human-animal hybrids. Without being alarmist about it, this is certainly a science-fictional world that we are living in.
Of course, a lot of these things call to mind science fiction stories of yesteryear. The last story calls to mind The Island of Doctor Moreau, for example. Some of these events even make the science fiction stories of the past resonate more. Octavia Butler eerily predicted Trump’s campaign slogan. And I can’t think of Trump’s candidacy without thinking of the Ray Bradbury story, A Sound of Thunder.
I first encountered the story many years ago, when I was a kid, on an audiotape that my parents bought me at Waldenbooks. I loved the story the first time I heard it, but over the years, one of the hardest things for me to take in that story was the presidential race it depicted (spoilers for the story ahead):
Here’s what a character says early in the story:
We’re lucky. If Deutscher had gotten in, we’d have the worst kind of dictator- ship. There’s an anti-everything man for you, a militarist, anti- Christ, anti-human, anti-intellectual. People called us up, you know, joking but not joking. Said if Deutscher became President they wanted to go live in 1492.
Sounds a little familiar to me. Then, at the end of the story (and here’s the real spoilery part, so please look away if you want to read the story — and you should if you never have):
His face was cold. His mouth trembled, asking: “Who— who won the presidential election yesterday?”
The man behind the desk laughed. “You joking? You know 460 very well. Deutscher, of course! Who else? Not that fool weakling Keith. We got an iron man now, a man with guts!” The official stopped. “What’s wrong?”
Eckels, the main character, in going back to the past and stepping off the path and killing a butterfly causes the change that allows Deutscher to be elected.
I never bought that in the past. I don’t know if I thought that someone like Deutscher could never be a real contender for president or else doubted that the time ripple could effect that kind of change. But now, looking at the Trump candidacy, I stand corrected.
So to any time travelers out there, please don’t leave the path. Please don’t kill any butterflies. I don’t think we can live with the consequences.