Fiction Friday – Walter Tevis: The Big Bounce


Walter Tevis

If you know about Walter Tevis, it may be from The Man Who Fell to Earth. To be honest, I wouldn’t have even have known that if I hadn’t seen the movie, which is brilliantly flawed. This movie was my introduction to Tevis and the dazzling mind that produced some wonderful science fiction. A man who wrote in multiple genres, it wasn’t till much later that I realized that he also wrote The Hustler and The Color Of Money.

In his science fiction Tevis wrote about many subjects, the fall of cities, alien invasion, technology run amok but what I would like to give to you today is a short story called “The Big Bounce”. In this story, a professor, thru serendipitous research discovers a substance with amazing properties. The story sheds light on the art of scientific inquiry and how one handles unintended consequences.

 Let me show you something,” Farnsworth said. He set his near-empty drink–a Bacardi martini–on the mantel and waddled out of the room toward the basement.  I sat in my big leather chair, feeling very peaceful with the world, watching the fire. Whatever Farnsworth would have to show to-night would be far more entertaining than watching T.V.–my custom on other evenings. Farnsworth, with his four labs in the house and his very tricky mind, never failed to provide my best night of the week.  When he returned, after a moment, he had with him a small box, about three inches square. He held this carefully in one hand and stood by the fireplace dramatically–or as dramatically as a very small, very fat man with pink cheeks can stand by a fireplace of the sort that seems to demand a big man with tweeds, pipe and, perhaps, a saber wound.  Anyway, he held the box dramatically and he said, “Last week, I was playing around in the chem lab, trying to make a new kind of rubber eraser. Did quite well with the other drafting equipment, you know, especially the dimensional curve and the photosensitive ink. Well, I approached the job by trying for a material that would absorb graphite without abrading paper.”  I was a little disappointed with this; it sounded pretty tame. But I said, “How did it come out?

The  full story is available via Project Gutenberg here.

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