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I'm trying to remember the name of a novel I remember reading in the 90s about attempting to develop anti-gravity. General Googling hasn't brought up anything, I guess it was probably not well-known (I can't even remember how good it was, just very vague memories!) and likely well out of print. Not sure when it was written though, may well have been 70s or 80s.

The premise as I remember it was the US government gathered together some of their best scientists and mathematicians, and told them (incorrectly - on purpose) that the Soviets had developed some form of "anti-gravity", and that they needed to re-create it for the US in a form of "Manhattan project".

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  • That's taking the general idea of "if you know something is possible, you can do it" a bit too far. May 15 at 9:36
  • First asked about in 2014. May 15 at 10:42
  • Clearly my memory's not as good as I thought - I don't remember anything about the missing inventor, but I guess this must have been the story.
    – kallestar
    May 15 at 20:55
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This is almost definitely "Noise Level" (1952) by Raymond F. Jones.

The only difference is that instead of telling the scientists that the Soviets had developed working anti-gravity, the project leader showed the assembled scientists a (faked) movie showing the anti-gravity device in operation, and claimed that the government had lost his notes.

The scientists do ultimately succeed in developing anti-gravity, though they initially think their efforts are a failure because their machine is much bulkier and uses a lot more power than the one they were shown.

The story was originally published in Astounding, but it's been anthologized a few times. If you read it in an anthology, it was most likely Spectrum V (also Spectrum 5 depending on the edition).

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It's possible you might be thinking of "Noise Level" by Raymond F. Jones as per Government investigating home library of missing inventor. To quote that answer:

Many of the country's top physicists are gathered together and are shown film of the inventor hovering using some sort of small anti-gravity device. They are told that, unfortunately, he shortly after died in a crash and is unit was completely destroyed. The government scientists can't make sense of the records he left behind, so they are asked to figure out what he did.

His lab is filled with odd stuff -- some high tech, some assorted, plus books on physics as well as the occult. A real mishmash.

The scientists persevere and, knowing the antigravity is possible, eventually come up with a huge, clumsy device that nevertheless hovers. They are then introduced to the (live) inventor -- who turns out to be an actor. They are told that this was an experiment to see if they could achieve more if they were forced to think outside the box.

It was first published in Astounding Science Fiction, December 1952 and has been widely reprinted: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?55972

And an excerpt from Scientists shown a fake anti-gravity device to motivate them to build the real thing:

… Dunning rose in a rather steep arc and levelled off.  Against the background, he seemed about as high as the roof of the hangar beyond.  For about a hundred feet he drifted slowly, then accelerated his pace.  …

Abruptly the screen flared.  A puff of light exploded from the pack on Dunning’s back.  For a terrible moment he seemed suspended in an attitude of violent agony.  Then he plunged like a dropped stone.

             ︙

‘The remains of the device are here for your examination.  So far, we see only burned and bloody wreckage in it.

‘Dunning’s quite evident paranoia was carried out in an utter lack of notes.  …

… We have to duplicate that work of Dunning’s.

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