I recall reading a mid twentieth century scifi anthology that may have been Asimov stories. One stuck out to me but I'm having trouble remembering some of the details. Some of what follows could be incorrect.

There are two main characters who are rivals. I believe the POV character is more theoretically minded and into hard physics. The other rival is more engineering and business minded, caring less for theory. The story focuses on the practical minded man inventing something that is theoretically impossible and the conflict between these two.

The theoretically minded chap doesn't believe that anti-gravity is possible. Despite this, some sort of anti-gravity turns out to be possible, but I believe it ends up being used primarily for energy generation, perhaps by creating a force imbalance on a wheel or by causing a large relative velocity between the stuff being un-inertia-ed relative to the environment, instead of other obvious applications like flying around.

In any case, a large amount of animosity develops between these rivals. At one point, the practical one challenges the theoretical one to a pool game that somehow features the new technology. The theoretical one makes a shot that interacts with this anti-gravity element and unexpectedly kills his rival. Possibly a pool ball enters this field and ends up punching a hole in him. It is suspected that the protagonist had known this would happen and that it was murder in response to the goading, but because no one else saw that possibility in advance it's not provable. The overall message of the work seemed to be that while practical minded people who eschew theory may be able to do useful things and make money, it can be very dangerous to use things you don't understand and theory can lead to important practical consequences.

  • I don't know how to do spoiler tags, but someone may want to put part of my last paragraph behind them Jul 24 '18 at 0:26
  • When did you read it?
    – Möoz
    Jul 24 '18 at 0:31
  • Mid-2000s, but I don't see the relevance. I know roughly when the story was written and the anthology was probably from the 80s. Jul 24 '18 at 0:34

This is The Billiard Ball by Isaac Asimov.

... the story is a journalist's recollection of the events surrounding the discovery of an anti-gravity device in the mid-21st century. Heavy with physics theory, the story describes the relationship between the creator of the device, the billionaire inventor Edward Bloom, and his former classmate James Priss, a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist who had discovered most of the theory that made the device possible. The men are expert billiards players and bitter rivals. Challenged to execute a shot on a table which is equipped with the device, Priss sends a ball on a complicated trajectory which finishes when it enters the device's field. At that point the ball vanishes and Bloom collapses, dead. There is a mysterious hole drilled completely through his chest.

Central to the story is the concept of a pure anti-gravity machine that turns out to be a perpetual motion machine of the 1st order. Energy can be freely created in a volume of space time which is pulled 'flat' as defined within the Theory of Relativity as determined by Einstein. However, this field possesses remarkable properties, which are the centerpiece of the story: any object which enters the field is reduced to zero mass, and hence must assume the speed of light. There is also the unprovable speculation as to whether Priss knew, from his own theory and the nature of the blue glow produced by the field (possibly due to Cherenkov radiation), what would happen, and if he then directed the ball in such a way as to kill Bloom.

  • I'm almost positive this is it. Jul 24 '18 at 0:29
  • I'm not sure of the best way to handle two questions that have the same answer but different questions. I'm not curious about FTL travel, etc. in there and people who remember the anti-gravity details are more likely to find mine. A search didn't give me their question because I wasn't looking at FTL. Jul 24 '18 at 0:33
  • Had to read it first, but yes, this is it! Jul 24 '18 at 1:02
  • 1
    The anti-gravity aspect was that "it wasn't an anti-gravity machine". Bloom (a practical inventor) insisted he could invent it, while Priss (a theorist) said it was theoretically impossible. When he invented "something" that looked like an antigravity machine he wanted to humiliate Priss which sets the main scene. The end result was that Bloom had invented not an antigravity machine but a vastly more valuable infinite energy source; Bloom didn't have the theoretical knack to "get it", while Priss could not have built it, but "got it". Jul 24 '18 at 4:52

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.