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Five SFF Stories Featuring Experiments With Unexpected Outcomes


Five SFF Stories Featuring Experiments With Unexpected Outcomes

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Five SFF Stories Featuring Experiments With Unexpected Outcomes

From time travel to arcane research, experimentation can lead to the most surprising results...


Published on May 14, 2024

Photo by Colin + Meg [via Unsplash]

Photo of a vintage typewriter

Photo by Colin + Meg [via Unsplash]

Science is all about trying to understand what we don’t know, often by tinkering with what we do know. As a student of Applied Psychology, I learned to design experiments and create hypotheses—A does (or doesn’t) cause B, X and Y are (or aren’t) correlated. Either way, certain outcomes were expected. But what happens when the outcome is something you never saw coming? Here are some stories that ask (and try to answer) this question…

How To Break Causality and Write the Perfect Time Travel Story” by Stewart C. Baker

Writing is not easy, especially when you want to tell a story about time travel, something countless authors have tackled already in various brilliant ways. How do you get around this problem and create the best and most famous time travel story of all time? By time traveling, of course. Everything goes exactly as you wanted it to. Until it doesn’t. What do you do then?

The Truth About Woopy” by Liviu Surugiu

Six-year-old Nabi is not afraid of shadows. He has a lot of questions about them, and Tom answers as many as he can, while trying not to wonder if it was a bad decision to encourage his kid’s interest in such things. He thought Nabi was trying to make shadows of animals, just like they saw a man do at the circus. But Nabi isn’t content with simply knowing stuff about light and shadow, so he sculpts them instead. And maybe, if he gets it right, he can make something that can’t exist. What is play for if not to make the things you imagine real?

White Charles” by Sarah Monette

Miss Parrington keeps shipping her curious finds to an amateur historian at the museum. She means well, but most of what she sends doesn’t turn out to be useful, so our narrator ignores her latest parcel. Then a junior curator opens the crate, never getting a good glimpse at whatever it was inside before it flies into his face and escapes—recovering from the shock, he says it looked like a giant white spider. Now the question is, how do you recover something so enigmatic and something not quite…right?

Monette has created an incredible atmosphere of dread in this story, while also exploring the results of magic gone wrong, and of the power of compassion. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Dr. Polingyouma’s Machine” by Emily Devenport

When Dr. Polingyouma turned on his time machine, both the creator and the creation vanished. It also caused The Effect, “an astonishing intersection of worlds” requiring regular cleaning of the overlap zone. It’s the kind of work on which the fate of the world depends, and requires not a janitor but a dedicated sanitation engineer like Harris, who risks going insane or dying on the job. After all, it is tempting to look at the people—entities—passing through and to poke around, and difficult to grapple with questions that can’t or won’t be answered.

Remaker Remaker” by Lucas J. W. Johnson

Martin Fullius, a PhD in Engineering and Thaumaturgy and a freelance Remaker, is visited by a man from Rome who knows about his skills and his secret projects. He offers to provide Martin with everything he requires to work on his projects, in return for completing a job he needs done. It’s a request that goes beyond anything he has made before—hands and legs made from muscles and clockwork are no big deal for Martin. He needs to work hard, research, stretch his understanding of anatomy, and observe its workings.

Both his patron and Martin know what he’s capable of. So when he fails, it comes as a surprise. Maybe he needs further research, a change of location. You can make anything if you try hard enough, right?



About the Author

Ratika Deshpande


Ratika Deshpande (she/her), Order of Truthwatchers, is currently writing a series of essays at on the art and craft of writing, one blog post at a time.
Learn More About Ratika
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