Didn’t I just say I was going to do Clifford D Simak next? Yeah, well you’re not the boss of me. This Bradbury story was going to appear as an aside in a later chapter and also I was unclear as to when it was written. It appears in Bradbury’s 1980’s “Dinosaur Tales” collection and in more than once place it has a 1980s date on it. However, it was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1962 and so belongs in this era. Indeed, it’s now a bit out of sequence as I’ve already run past 1964.
It wasn’t nominated for a Hugo Award for a simple reason — it isn’t a science fiction story. Perversely, that’s why it needs its only Hugosauriad entry because ‘not a science fiction story’ is a theme we are going to pick up again in the other parts of this dinography.
The story is quintessentially Bradbury. Terwilliger, an animator/model-maker of monsters for film companies (not a million miles away from Bradbury’s friend Ray Harryhausen) has been commisioned to make a tyrannosaur for a new film ‘Prehistoric Monster’. Unfortunately that means working with the overbearing and bullying Joe Clarence and his obnoxious (and hopelessly unactionable) demands:
‘Another thing.’ Clarence put the creature on the floor and walked around it. ‘I don’t like the way this monster shapes up.’ ‘You don’t like what?’ Terwiliger almost yelled. ‘His expression. Needs more fire, more … goombah. More mazash!’ ‘Mazash?’ ‘The old bimbo! Bug the eyes more. Flex the nostrils. Shine the teeth. Fork the tongue sharper. You can do it! Uh, the monster ain’t mine, huh?’ ‘Mine.’ Terwilliger arose. His belt buckle was now on a line with Joe Clarence’s eyes. The producer stared at the bright buckle almost hypnotically for a moment. ‘God damn the goddam lawyers!’ He broke for the door. ‘Work!’ The monster hit the door a split second after it slammed shut. Terwilliger kept his hand poised in the air from his overhand throw. Then his shoulders sagged. He went to pick up his beauty. He twisted off its head, skinned the latex flesh off the skull, placed the skull on a pedestal and, painstakingly, with clay, began to reshape the prehistoric face. ‘A little goombah,’ he muttered. ‘A touch of mazash.’Tyrannosaurs Rex. Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 1 . HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Terwilliger concocts the perfect revenge and find a way to add some goombah and mazash to his monster.
‘Stop! Freeze it right there!’ The film stopped. The image held. ‘What’s wrong?’ asked Mr Glass. ‘Wrong?’ Clarence crept up on the image. He thrust his baby hand to the screen, stabbed the tyrant jaw, the lizard eye, the fangs, the brow, then turned blindly to the projector light so that reptilian flesh was printed on his furious cheeks. ‘What goes? What is this?’ ‘Only a monster, Chief.’ ‘Monster, hell!’ Clarence pounded the screen with his tiny fist. ‘That’s me!’ Half the people leaned forward, half the people fell back, two people jumped up, one of them Mr Glass, who fumbled for his other spectacles, flexed his eyes and moaned, ‘So that’s where I saw him before!’ ‘That’s where you what?’ Mr Glass shook his head, eyes shut. ‘That face, I knew it was familiar.’ A wind blew in the room. Everyone turned. The door stood open. Terwilliger was gone.Tyrannosaurs Rex. Ray Bradbury Stories Volume 1 . HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.
It’s a great story and I couldn’t help think about it today seeing examples of the animation from the new CGI version of Disney’s The Lion King – picture perfect representations of lions with all the character of the original leached out. Terwilliger gets his revenge but also the conflict turns out to be a very creative one. The film monster is a huge hit because of its obvious personality and even Clarence ends up happy.
So we get a more benevolent entry in the theme of dinosaurs (especially t-rex) as spirits that punish vanity, hubris, cowardice or evil.
Yes but it isn’t science fiction though is it? Firstly it is set in the present, in the real world, with real technology. There is no speculative content as such nor was it published as science fiction.
And yet. The film within the story IS science fiction. A dinosaur is thematically central to the story and it was written by Ray Bradbury and hence somehow magically blessed with particles of sfnalness. OK, I can tell I’m not winning this argument.
Let me put forward a proposition: there are some things that are so intimately connected to the genre of science fiction that even non-ficitional real-world examples are undoubtedly sci-fi adjacent and just a teeny-tiny push makes them science fiction. These include:
- Space travel
- Robots and artificial intelligence
The Hugo Awards recognise some of this fluidity of boundary in categories like Best Related Work and Best Dramatic Presentation. The most notable example being the 1970 Hugo Award to the news coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landings*.
Am I saying that Worldcon members should have voted this story in as a finalists? No, just that I wanted to look at these boundaries and I need to start the discussion in this era before we get to two other stories in later eras.
Next time: no, seriously, DEFINITELY Clifford D Simak and the joys of time travel in Wisconsin.
*[The moon landings being 50 years ago this month being yet another reason why I wanted to work this in somehow.]