This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is particularly interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, I love the idea of big game trophy hunters going back in time in order to bag a T-Rex head, or something similar, for their trophy rooms – especially when their own heads ends up becoming trophies that the dinosaur instead takes from them. The second reason that L. Sprague De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur” intrigues me, though, has as much to do with Ray Bradbury’s “ A Sound of Thunder,” the story I featured here two Time Travel Tuesdays ago as it does with De Camp’s story. The two stories, you see, share an eerily similar plot, and I could not wait to compare the way these two masters of the science fiction genre approached their individual stories.
As it turns out, while Bradbury spent a good portion of his story explaining the nuts and bolts of time travel and exploring a time-travel paradox or two (the accidental changing of the present or future by a careless time-traveler), De Camp was much more concerned with his actual storyline and character development. Although Bradbury’s story was published approximately four years earlier than De Camp’s, the plot is not an unusual one in time travel stories, and I doubt that De Camp wrote the story because he remembered Bradbury’s earlier one. In any case, the two stories are very different from each other, and if I had to choose between them, I prefer De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur.”
Two partners, one British and one Indian, run a business in which they contract with Washington University in St. Louis to use the school’s time machine on a regular basis to deliver them, their hunter-clients, and their support crew back to the age of the dinosaurs. As the story begins, our narrator (the Brit) has just turned down a potential customer who is too small and lightweight to handle the large guns required to bring down a dinosaur before the animal has time turn on the hunters and their guides. The guide feels bad about turning down the disappointed man and feels that he owes him a more detailed explanation. And what better way to explain this portion of company policy than telling the man a story of exactly what can go wrong when that company rule is bent or ignored?
As usual, on the hunt in question two hunters were chosen to time-travel with the guides and support crew. One of the two was a blustery loudmouth who got into an argument with our narrator even before signing the initial paperwork, the other a rather puny little man whose girlfriend begged him not to go on the trip at all. Shortly after being deposited on the ground by the time machine operator (where they were scheduled to hunt for the next month), the guides realized that bringing the loudmouth along with them had been a terrible mistake. The man insisted on firing when he deemed it to be to his own advantage to do so rather than waiting for one of the guides to give him the signal to shoot. Unfortunately, the boor was a poor shot, and he often spoiled the shot of his fellow hunter by unexpectedly shooting out of turn. The man was an obvious danger to himself and those around him.
The guides only found out just how dangerous he really was a few hours after they had returned to the present with the now very angry, and threatening, man in tow. But perhaps the hothead should have been more attentive when the potential paradoxes of time travel were discussed with him in the office and around the campfire at night. Let’s just say, that not every millionaire is particularly bright – this one certainly wasn’t.