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The Big Bounce by Walter S. Tevis

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This is a guest post by Saurabh Sawhney.

The perfect example of putting the ‘Science’ in ‘Science Fiction’. While attempting to develop a better eraser, Farnsworth has synthesized a material that behaves rather oddly. It is made in the shape of a ball that gathers momentum after it is dropped, going higher with each bounce. Farnsworth and his colleague discuss this property, and how it fits in with the laws of physics. To maintain the law of conservation of energy, the ball must get cooler as it acquires momentum. It can, however, acquire heat from its surroundings and thus, plausibly, go on forever. Both scientists get excited by the prospect of ‘free’ energy, and create a bigger ball for further experiments. Things then start to get out of hand. The rest of the story describes the consequences and the final resolution of the problem.

Actions have consequences. This story is a beautiful example of how seemingly minor things can assume unexpected proportions. Using a limited set of two characters and one innovation, the author makes a delightful journey into the ramifications of logic, and how the laws of physics translate into reality. The simplicity of the story and its focus on true scientific principles to carry it forward qualify it as a shining light in the world of short science fiction.

Fun to read, and the science holds up. An exceptionally well executed idea.


  • Author : Walter S. Tevis
  • Word Count: 4745
  • Published: 1958
  • Hollywood: The inspiration for the 1961 movie, “The Absent Minded Professor” and the more recent ‘Flubber’.

Born in 1928, Tevis began writing with ‘The Ifth Of Oofth’, published in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1957. He wrote two novels, The Hustler (1959) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963), before embarking upon a long career as a teacher of English. He returned to writing in 1978, and published four more novels. In addition to the novels, he has written twenty seven short stories. His works have received critical acclaim, including a nomination for the Nebula award in 1980 for ‘Mockingbird’. He passed away in 1984.

You can read The Big Bounce for free at Project Gutenberg.

Saurabh would like to dedicate this review to Dr. Shiv Kumar Patil and Sonia Patil.