Author: Carole Johnstone
Publisher: Tor Books
First Published: June 5, 2019
Genres: Horror, Psychological, Science Fiction
"Skinner Box," a Tor.com Original short story from award-winning author Carole Johnston.
A disturbing science fiction story about space exploration and a seemingly routine scientific mission to Jupiter that is threatened by the interpersonal relationships of its crew.
Skinner Box is a clever little story that blends psychological horror and hard science fiction seamlessly. Evie is a neuropsychologist aboard a shuttle with her husband, an abusive and terrifying man, and a young male engineer who is infatuated with her. The three are trapped in tight quarters with each other as they carry out their work separately on board far from home.
“If the reward is big enough, wanted or needed enough, a rat will endure pain past the point of recovery. Of sense. And that’s obvious why too. All life, after all, is just pushing levers and hoping.”
The narrative is dizzying and the very real domestic horror is felt keenly with distressing detail. The name of the story comes from Evie’s experiments with nanotechnology and a skinner box, alluding to a famous invention by B. F. Skinner to condition behavior in rats. The story creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that makes the passengers on board feel like they’re trapped in a box hurtling through space. This is the type of story that is best to go into knowing as little as possible, it’s a mind-bending adventure that could have easily spanned a much longer novel.
Warnings: graphic violence and domestic abuse, sex, rape