Derek Tumacder: Mad Science

Title:  Mad Science

Author:  Derek Tumacder

Genre: gaslamp/steampunk/fantasy

word count: 1007

Slugline:  Welcome to Metroburg, the capital of Europa, where steampunk and magic come together.   A Metroburg Periodical is a glimpse into that city.

Author comment:  This is the first time I’ve put my work out there for others to review other than family and friends.  Please give constructive criticism on anything and everything.  Please pay particular attention to sentence construction/style, characterization and context.  These are what I am looking to improve most on.  Thank you.


Mad Science

A Metroburg Periodical

by Derek Tumacder

The 20th Annual Engineer’s Convention dinner was met with disaster yesterday.  After the King arrived, local Professor and Engineer Edward Shlophouser created a scene, declaring tribalism dead to the modern era.  This declaration was followed by an eccentric tribal dance that ended with half the dinner spread disintergrated.  Continue on page 4.

The Metroburg Gazette – Octobus 19, 1852

           Eddie, as he liked to be called, couldn’t muster the energy he needed to finish the complex equation to determine dynamic social tribal practices.  He had destroyed his reputation at the party.  He needed to warn the king that the tribes in Egyptwere slowly massing for an attack.  The newspaper had it all wrong.  He had not declared tribalism dead in the modern era.  He had declared tribalism will kill the modern era.

            All the data was there, between a football field’s length of chalk boards and the mass of brass, steel, and steam that once again whirled to life on the far wall. The machine was his most prized possession, one of 4 analysis engines in the university.  Currently, it was performing the task of matching up personality matrixes within an enlarged sample group.  It was a symphony to his ears that washed away his worry.

            His musings were interrupted by a knock at the door.  Annoyance at the interruption crossed the professor’s face.  Without prompt, a young teenage boy entered the room.  His eyes were as round as 5 inch cogs.  Of course, the student body had already heard of his debacle.  Jim was normally shy, but it looked as if he would pass out on the spot today.  So much for forgetting about my anxiety, Eddie thought.

            “P…professor  Sh…sh…sh…shlophouser,” Jim said.

            Eddie rolled his eyes to the cosmos before they landed on the student and narrowed.  If anyone had been viewing the scene, the way he held the boy in place with his gaze, they would think he was actually performing magic on the lad.  “Well…what?!”

            “Th…th..there is a for you.”  The effort of forming those words was clear on Jim’s face.  Sweat beaded at his brow, his face wilted before Eddie’s eyes.

            “Well give it here and get.”  He dismissed the boy with a gesture.

            Jim handed him the letter and bolted out the door, an afterimage left in his wake.  Eddie shook his head.  Everyone would call him mad at that point if he were seeing doubles of people.  He looked at the message:

            The Sacred Ibis is on the move.  Magic and Steam will not mix.  Beware the delivery boy.

            Eddie’s hands had begun to tremble, ripping the paper apart in the process.  He did not have time to assimilate the information as the door to the lab clicked shut.  Jim was still here!  Eddie raced to the door, slamming it open.  There was nothing but his living area on the other side of the door. 

            His mind raced.  Perhaps it was the wind?  No, there were no windows.  It was how he liked it.  Something closed his door…something was listening in on his…reading?

            Edward laughed to himself and his paranoia.  Of course he could trust Jimmy.  The boy had served him well for ten years now.  He shook his head and returned to his lab.  The soft yet constant din of machinery once again soothed him.

            Anthropology was not his first love, nor his second.  But his discovery dictated his path.  It was up to him to stop the invasion.  Once again he looked at the two halves of the message.  It was simple and clear:  The combined tribes of the Egyptian nation were the Sacred Ibis.  Their use of magic and science together was beyond Europa’s current understanding.  It was primitive yet it was capable of accomplishing what people have tried to do for years, mix the two.  All his efforts so far were for nothing.  Why should he beware of Jim?

            Confusion and paranoia fueled Eddie as he went back to his board.  He felt dizzy…

            Above the genius, a group of students and a middle aged professor observed through a mirrored window that worked one way.  The man turned to his students and began lecturing in a monotone voice.

            “As we observed yesterday, students, the subject is once again going through his routine.  He still believes it is Octobus 20, 1852, just after the incident noted in his file.  He was once a brilliant mechanical physicist, but he became obsessed withEgypt.  This obsession reformed all he knew in his life, forsaking his life’s work…for anthropological data.  This obsession quickly turned to paranoia.  Let this be a warning to all students on the dangers of going insane.  We all have a gift that has a dark side.  For an artist, it is depression.  For a Meister, it is succumbing to their baser emotions.  For a merchant, greed.  For Engineers, obsession becomes insanity.”

            A female student piped up with a know it all tone, “I was told that you can’t prevent insanity.  If just…is.”  The girls, around her, nodded in approval.

            “The subject became insane because of his obsession.  Obsession equates to insanity, Ms. Galinger.  Be passionate about your research, but never develop obsession, or a nice room will be waiting for you down here in the Pit.”

            The gaggle of girls became somber at the threat.  No one wanted to end up in the university’s asylum, where mad scientist continued their research for the betterment of mankind.

            “As I was saying, “The professor paused to stare at Ms. Galinger before continuing, “for thirty years, the subject has been given different stimuli through the notes and our ‘Jim’, typically a research assistant, to produce a desired response.  We hope to cure the incurable.”

            “Dr. Shlophouser,” a boy raised his hand.  Annoyance at the interruption crossed the professor’s face, yet he motioned for the young man to proceed, “How does one get into the study of imbalanced chemical reactions to stimuli?” 

            The professor looked down at the man below and fondly smiled, “You have to love your work.”

10 Responses to Derek Tumacder: Mad Science

  1. Pingback: Prologue: Deconstructing “The Hunger Games”

  2. Derek:
    I wonder where this scene might go if you opened it at: ” … Jim handed him the letter and bolted out the door, an afterimage left in his wake.  Eddie shook his head.  Everyone would call him mad at that point if he were seeing doubles of people.  He looked at the message: …”?

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Peace and blessings.


  3. Matthew McInnis

    I have a couple of suggestions, for what they’re worth. Marking up changes is tricky, so I’ve put hyphens around things I changed. Some of this is for copy clarity, some is for thematic flavor.

    “All the data -were- there, between a -cricket pitch’s- length of chalk boards and the mass of brass, steel, and steam that once again whirled to life on the far wall. The machine was his most prized possession-;- one of 4 analysis engines in the university. Currently, it was performing the task of matching up personality matrixes within an enlarged sample group. It was a symphony to his ears that -would ordinarily wash- away his worry.”

    I think this is an intriguing introduction to a setting, and I think it’s only real weakness is that it’s trying to do too much, too fast. In other words, a setting this complex and background-rich should get revealed smoothly and slowly, which is not easy. Perhaps a little more metaphor and a little less simile would help.

    Keep writing! I want to see where this goes!

  4. Jason Reed

    Hello Derek,

    I must admit, I do not have a taste for steam punk, but the opening scene intrigued me, and I would like to see more. Besides the few, small errors that you’ll probably rid yourself of when you proofread, there was something that bothered me.
    The transition from Professor Shlophouser’s POV to the people observing him confused me a little, I’d try to keep a single POV per scene.
    I also agree with Matthew, it does feel like you tried to do to much with that first scene.
    Otherwise, keep going, I DO want to read more!

  5. Derek Tumacder

    Thank you for the comments so far. I will take all suggestions into consideration.

    I forgot to comment that this was a flash fiction. That is why it is so short. I am trying to work on cutting out extra word usage and was hoping a series of flash fictions would help me with this. I want to polish my use of context and I believe this format would help me the most.

    @Anjuelle – Your suggestion had me staring at my story for a good 2 hours. It had me rethinking where I would put the information I needed in the story in new and different ways. It would have more of an emotional impact going forth from the inciting incident. The only issue I have with the suggestion is how the story will flow from the point he has the note. If I don’t do it right, I’m worried I will slow down the pace with the details I need to add. Great suggestion, I may do a rewrite using it to see how it goes.

    @Matthew – Your observations, introducing this setting in this way, echos my own thoughts. I concluded that this will be but one of many flash fictions that will round out the setting. I do plan on creating a website that will house this collection in blog form after I polish them up and have a decent amount. This setting was originally concieved as a setting for a novel. I too felt it was rich setting, I felt it warranted other stories, in other formats. That is when I came upon the idea of ‘Metroburg Periodicals’ . It will help me serialize the setting outside of the novel. I like a number of your suggestions, thank you very much. I will definetly look into replacing some similes with metaphors for deeper context.

    @Jason – Thank you for the compliment. The change in POV, was the fault of my own editing in the document. I had put a space signifying view point change, but when it was transfered online, since all paragraphs had a space added, it ended up just looking like a paragraph change. There is a visible scene change in the original document after Eddie goes dizzy. Thank you for noting that. It is important.

    Again, thank you for all the suggestions so far. They have been great and helpful.

  6. I love the setup. The clip from the newspaper made me laugh, imagining the “eccentric tribal dance that ended with half the dinner spread disintergrated.” (Although I assume you meant disintegrate?) I’m excited about the looming threat of the Sacred Ibis. I’m intrigued that the scientist and the doctor share a name, and I’d be curious to find out how they are related. I like the hints of magic and mad science. I like the suggestion of love becoming obsession becoming insanity.

    There is so much to like. Maybe too much? I felt like I had barely begun to appreciate one nuance before I was thrown into the next idea. I’m a proponent of fast pacing in genre fiction, but I suffered a bit of whiplash here. Finding out it is flash fiction made me hesitate. There’s so much going on, I might feel cheated by such a short form. I generally think of flash fiction as complete and satisfying within itself. If this is flash fiction that is a lot of stories set with the same characters in the same world within the same plot, wouldn’t that be better called chapters? 🙂

    Re: characterization. It was hard to connect with any character when we only had a few paragraphs with him. If we’d stayed with Eddie and felt more of his urgency about the invasion, I think I would have empathized more. Also, avoid the “As you know, Bob” info dump. Much of the second scene with the doctor and students felt contrived to bring the reader up to speed.

    Re: sentence structure. I thought the period voice wavered a bit with some of your word choices: “so much for” and “know it all” felt a little modern. There’s also a bit of POV wandering with emotions crossing POV characters’ faces, which would be visible from an omniscient POV but jerks me out of the close third you established.

    Re: mechanics. Not worth doing until after the final draft, of course, but you have style, grammar and punctuation errors you’d want to clean up before submitting to real readers.

    Overall, the ideas here are really fun, with a lot of room to run. Good job!

  7. Derek Tumacder

    Thank you very much for your input Jessa.

    With Matthew’s and, now, your suggestion on period voice, I’ve been re-aquainting myself with Victorian speech. I will include these in the revision. Excellent suggestions. I will go throughout the story and make sure it is free of modern idioms.

    I am happy you enjoyed alot of what mirrored my own enjoyment writing the story. Unfortunately, you are not the only one that said this is too much too fast. I am thinking of elaborating more in short story form, since this is the first Metroburg Periodical. When I mentioned a series of flash fictions and short stories, serialized, I did not make myself clear. Each story will have its own plot and characters. The only thing that will bind the collection is the arena it is set in: Metroburg. This will give a more diverse understanding of the setting before I actually write the novel.

    Why not write the novel first? As you can see I am a novice. Writing has been a hobby of mine for over 20 years now. But that is all it was. A hobby. Honestly, I did not have the confidence I needed to become a professional until a year ago. I am hoping, once I have enough stories, to launch a blog style site that will allow me to explain the setting better and host the collection. This will allow me to work on the parts of the craft that I need improvement on while beginning work on my platform.

    All the suggestions and critique have been very helpful. Thank you everyone. Anyone who does critique or give feedback to my story will recieve a revision in the near future. Again, Thank you.

  8. Evonne Biggins

    Derek, I loved this: “between a football field’s length of chalk boards and the mass of brass, steel, and steam that once again whirled to life on the far wall.”
    This cracked me up: “Beware the delivery boy.”
    Is this a combined past and present tense? “Eddie’s hands had begun to tremble, ripping the paper…”
    This one sounded off…. “Why should he beware of Jim?” (and is he jimmy or jim? could be confusing, like eddie and edward).
    Is this intentional? “withEgypt.” I think I saw this a couple times.

    Overall, I loved the surprise ending…. cool.


  9. Derek Tumacder

    Thank you Evonne for the feedback :).

    An update: I am still in the middle of a rewrite for the fiction. I took many suggestions, the first is expanding what I have into a short story without adding new information. This has been one of the more fufilling writing projects I have worked on. In large part, due to this site and service that has an almost collaborative feel to it. I will post a link to an update for the story in the comments soon, as well as a new blog I am releasing that will be a collection of Metroburg Periodicals.

  10. JWB

    There is some action going on this scene you wrote, and the characters have been introduced to the reader well, but the only thing I noticed that caused some confusion for me, was the shift in POV. The scene goes from Omnicient to First Person, but was written like it was intended stay at First Person. Read over your scene, and you will notice how suddenly your protaganists is himself, but then becomes god. This happen to me, and this is the reason why I tend to notice it very well now. Keep doing what you’re doing.

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