Hugosauriad 2.6: The Prehistoric Producer aka Tyrannosaurus Rex by Ray Bradbury

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
  • Rockets
  • Robots and artificial intelligence
  • Dinosaurs

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.]

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19 thoughts on “Hugosauriad 2.6: The Prehistoric Producer aka Tyrannosaurus Rex by Ray Bradbury

  1. 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.

    No, you totally had me here.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. You would have convinced me if I’d needed any convincing.
        “God damn the goddam lawyers!” is a line that’s stayed with me since I read this story at age ~ 12.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. If the anthology had been up for a sf/f award, I would have had no trouble voting for it and would laugh in the face of anyone who said this one story disqualified it.

        I’m not sure how I would have felt if the story were nominated on its own, but I would certainly understand why some people nominated it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Generally: I’m always rather cautious about extending the boundaries of genre, because I feel there is sometimes a ‘this can’t be mainstream; it’s good!” instinct at work, which I think should be resisted. The point is not so much to maintain the purity of genre, as to maintain the integrity of mainstream, not borrowing from it everything we happen to like. I don’t actually think that is what was happening with the famously controversial case we are working towards, but I think it has happened with some other award-shortlisted works.

    Specifically: One of these things is not like the others. There is a good case for seeing space travel and robots as intrinsically SF-related, even when presented in a purely realistic way, because it’s plausible that SF actually played a part in their development (‘robot’ is after all a science-fictional word). But it would be hard to argue that SF played a part in the development of dinosaurs.

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    1. Fair point: technology itself being a kind of ‘practical science fiction’ – a product of the imagination applied to science & technology.

      I’ll come back to that with the next marginal example.

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      1. I’ll claim that the rest test is whether there’s anything speculative in the story.

        Robot stories are still speculative because industrial robots are still nothing like the SF kind. I doubt most people would consider an industrial robot story to be genre.

        Space travel stories are speculative because today we can only do it with great difficulty. Anything interesting in space requires at least some speculation. A story set entirely on the ISS wouldn’t be genre any more than a story set on a nuclear sub would be. Not without something extra, anyway.

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      2. A submarine is a good edge case example to think about, given Jules Verne versus more modern stories about submarines that aren’t intended to be SF genre (specifically military thrillers). I’d be hard pushed to claim that Das Boot is SF even though my argument would claim that it is [Hunt for Red October?…hmmm, mind you tech-thrillers always have that bit of an overlap]

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      3. I think it’s easy to end up with a rule that’s based on “any technology that seemed advanced to me when I was a teen.” I wonder if anyone under 30 thinks there’s any case at all for calling “Apollo 13” or “Hidden Figures” science fiction?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. 20000 Leagues Under the Sea is science fiction, because there were no submarines like the Nautilus at the time it was written.

        Das Boot is historical fiction, because any technology depicted is what was really available during WWII. Besides, U-96 was a real German submarine and the book on which the movie/TV series is based was written by a reporter who took part in the missions of the real U-96, so it’s probably as historically accurate as submarine movies and novels are going to get.

        And unlike Hidden Figures or The Right Stuff or Apollo 13, all of which were historical movies about the US space program that were considered SF-adjacent enough to win Hugo nominations, I don’t consider Das Boot SF-adjacent. For even though submarines figure in early SF, we have had submarines for more than a hundred years.

        The Hunt for Red October is an edge case. The submarine is described as particularly technologically advanced, though not outside the realm of what was possible in the 1980s. And while the submarine set in the movie has always struck me as way too spacious compared to the real submarines (the Wilhelm Bauer and two American ones, the USS Drum and USS Clamagore) I have seen, that doesn’t make it SF, but just an inaccurate movie. But if inaccuracies would make movies SF, then Titanic would be SF, too.

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      5. And now I spent ten minutes googling the names of the two US submarines I visited more than 30 years ago. The Wilhelm Bauer I know, because every out of town visitor to Bremerhaven inevitably wants to see it, so I’ve been on board lots of times.

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      6. Oh of course, spaceship fiction, especially early spaceship fiction is definitely influenced by submarine stories. And there were submarine stories like the old Irving Allen movie Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and the 1990s TV series SeaQuest DSV, which are unambiguously science fiction. On the other end of the realism scale for submarine stories, you have Das Boot, which can still serve as inspiration for a spaceship stories (and one could probably do worse than do Das Boot in space), but which isn’t science fiction itself. Somewhere in the middle, you have stuff like The Hunt for Red October or Crimson Tide or the German pulp series Jörn Farrows U-Boot Abenteuer (Jörn Farrow’s U-Boat Adventures) from the 1950s, where a German WWII submarine captain and his crew take off for the South Seas rather than surrender to the Allies and have many adventures. The titular Jörn Farrow is the captain’s teenaged son. We have no idea why a WWII submarine commander had his teenaged son on board with him in the middle of a war. And the very problematic “We’re totally not Nazis, but we won’t surrender to the Allies either, because they’ll only take our submarine, so we’ll head to the South Seas, where no one cares about rogue Nazi submarines” plot is a typical example of peculiar West German postwar mental gymnastics where the Nazis were totally evil, but the German army and navy, particularly the common soldiers, were innocent victims of circumstance.

        And talking of submarines influencing SF, K.H. Scheer, German SF author and co-creator of Perry Rhodan, was a 16-year-old submarine machinist in training by the end of WWII, though he never saw combat. Interestingly, Scheer was responsible for the more violent battle scene in Perry Rhodan and was nicknamed “Hand Grenade Herbert”, while co-creator Clark Dalton a.k.a. Walter Ernsting, who had actually served in WWII, was much more subdued.

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