The James Gunn series continues with the last work in The Unpublished Gunn, Part One.
Review: “The Black Marble”, James Gunn, 1992.
This was the 22nd story Gunn wrote, and it seems to be from 1953.
Gunn thinks it may have been rejected by editors for being too depressing.
For me, it’s a near-miss of a story; it almost works, but I think its failings have more to do with logic and obscurity than a morbid tone.
Two scientists are trying to develop a teleportation device. One, Dean, has a wife dying of an inoperable brain tumor.
They think their device might work if they can just use some non-material way of priming the system.
They then go to a demonstration by Psychology Professor Kleinman who is using a psychic boy to teleport items. He runs an experiment for Dean, his fellow scientist Phil, and snarky Physics Department head Burris (this was before Gunn joined academia full time) to prove psychic powers by teleporting a black marble out of a sealed jar with it and a bunch of white marbles.
Gunn does a nice job by showing that Burris is afraid of his physics paradigms being overthrown by Kleinman’s and Dean’s teleportation projects.
The demonstration with the boy seems to fail.
The story ends with Dean getting a call that his wife’s condition has worsened to the point where an operation will be risked. The psychic boy disappears after unsuccessfully attempting to teleport the black marble.
Dean gets the message about his wife and is summoned to the hospital to give his written consent.
The story cryptically ends: “His hand was hurting him. He unclenched it. He rolled it back and forth in his palm … “.
The insinuation is that the black marble was teleported. But that should have been more clearly stated. Gunn could have done that and still preserved the mystery of who teleported it: the boy or, unexpectedly, Dean. If Dean can do that, all of a sudden, did the anguish over his wife enable that?
Gunn insinuates that teleportation can cure Dean’s wife. This is keeping with Gunn liking to imply much at the end of his stories.