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Professor Panini by Matthew Grigg

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This is a guest post by Inez Ponce de Leon.

If you swapped minds with your dog, what would you do? Go to the mall, sneak into locker rooms, or chase cats all day? Now, what if you swapped minds with a duck? A cat? Or worse, a toaster?

This is the quandary faced by a nameless professor in Matthew Grigg’s short story, Professor Panini. The story starts when a self-made man, now a professor and researcher, works on exchanging the minds of a cat and duck using a machine. There are no details about how the machine works or what it looks like; suffice it to say that the experiment doesn’t go as planned, and hilarity ensues.

The professor has become a helpless, though intelligent toaster. In his immobile state, he starts looking for help in a myriad ways that the reader might not even imagine. Tossing toast, reprogramming the toaster, and even giving orders over the phone after a Rube Goldberg-like sequence of events all lead comically and slowly to a fun finale.

Will the professor escape the life of a stationary toaster, or will he forever be shooting out SOS bread messages through his apartment window?

Grigg’s prose is simple, sometimes too simple that you wonder if the lead character is actually a professor or some science enthusiast gone mad. However, this also bucks the trend of the jargon-spouting scientist who has nothing to talk about except science, making the short story a much easier read.

There are very few descriptions of the professor’s whereabouts, which might be disadvantageous, since the story could have profited from some descriptions that would allow us to exclaim, “Yes, let’s try the oven/window/fridge so we can get out of this mess!” along with the professor. Nevertheless, the professor’s thoughts and observations about his state allow us to glimpse another angle of the short story: one where an introspective life is necessary, since there is no other option but to think.

Without being weighed down by jargon, much less by conventional characters, Professor Panini becomes funnier and even more believable. It’s easier, after all, to imagine a professor eating his breakfast while starting up his experiment than it is to imagine a researcher stuck in a lab and electrocuting everything in sight.

Professor Panini does not have a dull bone in its short body. With only one character trying to shuttle between brilliant humanity and mere technology, you’ll find yourself thinking: if this is possible, how would I get out of the toaster?

You can read the whole story here

Inez Ponce de Leon has a background in molecular biology and science communication. She loves to write on a wide variety of topics, even Procera AVH.