A short story about a scientist trying to prove faster than light travel. He uses a billiard ball for the demonstration. It works but the billiard ball passes through a rival scientist, killing said rival.

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    Actually it’s not about FTL travel but about proving anti-gravity. And then the effectively mass-less ball is not travelling FTL but exactly with the speed of light.
    – Holger
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 11:01
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    It's faster than the speed of light in air, which isn't what is meant by FTL, but does matter slightly to the story (Cherenkov radiation).
    – armb
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 17:24
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    @armb I would argue it doesn't matter, because the author didn't really consider all the effects that a light-speed billiard ball would cause, even if massless (what-if.xkcd.com/1), aka what happens to all the massive air particles in the way?
    – user11521
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 18:37
  • @Michael It matters a bit within the context of the story, because if the inventor hadn't just dismissed the blue glow when asked about it, he might not have gone ahead with the fatal demonstration.
    – armb
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 11:49

1 Answer 1


"The Billiard Ball" (1966) by Isaac Asimov.

It is written from a reporter's view. The reporter discusses the rivalry between the two men. The scientist is a slow theoretical thinker ("if you asked him if the Sun rose in the East, you could be certain that he had also considered the possibility that the Sun rose in the West"). The other is a fast practical thinker, an inventor.

The inventor asks the professor to try his invention, humiliating him - "even though he says it's impossible, he will now demonstrate it."

The catch at the end of the story is, the billiard ball goes straight through the rival's heart - and the video footage shows that the scientist had already aimed the ball there! Had he, for once in his life, thought really fast and realized that the ball would work as a bullet?

  • Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I've been trying to remember this story for months :)
    – tls
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 6:36
  • @tls You're welcome! Maybe I should thank you - I'd never expected this to get so many upvotes! Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 18:35
  • I like how you put the spoiler text, even though the question contains the spoiler in plain text. ;)
    – user11521
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 18:35
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    IIRC, the story is not about FTL travel but a machine that eliminates mass within a field. The billiard ball is hit into this field, which is set up to run through a hole in the table. Upon losing its mass the billiard ball acquires velocity c (speed of light) and kills the rival. Cute story, but I felt the ball would have done a lot more damage, I.e. destroying several square blocks, given the energy it "acquired". Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 0:36
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    @JimGarrison The energy would be liberated in a line roughly a mile long rather than as a point source. While the total energy is about 1.5 megatons (I'm assuming Newtonian physics, otherwise you get nonsense) spreading it out like this is going to greatly cut it's destructive potential. Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 6:43

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