Sunday, June 26, 2016

"Holler If You See Any Black Holes"

"Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball."
By N. K. Jemisin (born 1972).
First appearance: Jim Baen's Universe, August 2008.
Short story (19 pages).
Online at HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"In 'Playing Nice with God’s Bowling Ball,' a police detective tries to understand how a children’s dispute over a playing card could have led to a mysterious disappearance."
There are a lot of ways people can vanish, but even the Great Houdini never thought of this one.

Principal players:
~ Jeffy Hanson, age seven:
   "Timmy said he would give me the card back if I gave him something like the moon or a black hole. I couldn’t think of anything else, and the moon was too big, so I made a black hole and gave it to him. It was just a little one. But he started feeding it this giant stuffed panda he got from Coney Island last year. The panda was even bigger than he was. I tried to stop him. I told him it was too big. But he dented the special container it was in, and the black hole got loose and ate him. I told him to be careful."
~ Detective Grace Anneton:
   "Put a kid that age in front of a cop and they might tell little white lies, but not the kinds of whoppers this kid is spinning. He actually believes what he’s saying."
~ Taliafero:
   "'He killed somebody but can’t say where the body is; no, wait, he only thinks he killed him; no, wait…' He shook his head. 'Prank, maybe. Or just a flat-out lie'.”
~ Captain Dewitt:
   "If the kid did kill somebody, I don’t want him getting off on a technicality."
~ Mrs. Hanson, Jeffy's mother:
   ". . . a thin woman in a faded dress, who had perpetually-tired eyes, listened to the story with a little frown on her face, showing surprise only once. Not when Taliafero mentioned 'possible harm to Timmy Johnson'—that had only made her frown deepen. But when Jeffy gave his black hole explanation, her eyes widened, her breath caught and her body language screamed anxiety in a way that no detective could have missed."
~ Mrs. Johnson, Timmy's mother:
   "Jeffy? Sure I know him. Weird kid, but nice enough."

- Wikipedia (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), of course, and the author's website (HERE).
- In the story we read:
"He said Timmy still existed, sort of. That’s what he said, sort of. So I looked up black holes on the internet to try and understand. You see, the flow of time around Timmy, close to the black hole, is bent. It’s a matter of perception. To us, outside the hole, he vanished quickly but will slow down as he gets closer to the hole. Eventually, if we could see at the microscopic level, he’d look to us as if he was frozen in place. But for Timmy, time is stretched out. Only an eye-blink has passed since he started to fall in; he probably doesn’t even know he’s in trouble yet. It might take him years—by our reckoning—to fall in all the way. Or he might already be gone; it really depends on which theory you pick." She sipped her coffee, then swirled the remainder around in her cup. The dark liquid swirled about the center in a miniature whirlpool.
The story telling value of black holes hasn't been lost on science fiction writers, as Wikipedia (HERE) amply documents; real black holes (if they are, indeed, real) are detailed in Wikipedia (HERE). You might also consult TV Tropes' "Useful Notes" (HERE), a nifty compendium of information about black holes.

The bottom line: "The laws of nature are constructed in such a way as to make the universe as interesting as possible."
Freeman Dyson

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