A Novel


George A. Blair

Copyright © 1987


George A. Blair


This is a story about three young scientists who discover a way to reduce mass, and then travel to Jupiter, where they meet a people who are living the life that human beings would have lived if there had not been a Fall (See Modes of the Finite, Part 3, Section 4, Chapter 5).

To Paul and Michele,

who years ago, when this was first written, laughed in the right places. May your lives from now on be as interesting as we imagined them then, if not as harrowing.


Although, of the earthlings in these pages, the names of Paul and Michele Blair, Michael Wang, and Jonathan Meyer are those of real people, and certain events of their early childhood related here actually happened, the characters that have these names are fictitious, dictated by the needs of the novel, and were not intended actually to represent these persons. None of the characters in this fable represent anyone real. The original version of this book was made years and years ago, when I thought it would be fun for my children to see grownups with their names having adventures. I see no particular purpose in changing the names now, since I have grown to know and love the fictional persons almost as much as the so different real ones.

Note to the 2001 Printing

I had planned to do some revising to bring the book into conformity with advances that had taken place since the 1970s when it was originally written; but then I thought it would be interesting to just leave it as it was when I revised it in 1987, so that readers could see how many "futuristic" things actually had come to pass.


It was as far back as 1992 that the idea actually germinated, and even then the seed was planted years before. I was ten or so, so it must have been in the 'sixties, when my father, who was a philosopher, mentioned something about the levitation of mystics.

I didn't know what levitation was, and he said, "They tell stories about how some saints go into a kind of trance that's so deep that they rise off the ground."

I, of course, in my wisdom, immediately expressed skepticism, and he said, "Don't be too ready to say that things didn't happen because you don't think they're possible. I'm not saying that it's not just legend; but what if it really happened?"

"But how could somebody be lighter than air just by thinking?" I said.

He looked at me. He had a good deal of respect for me even then, though I wasn't aware of it until later in life; but it isn't every father who would let his nine-year-old son take a college philosophy course just because the son asked him to.

"Exactly," he answered. "The question is how it's possible. It's at least conceivable that he's thinking and concentrating so hard that he doesn't have enough energy in his body to do it unless he borrows somehow from the energy that ordinarily shows up as mass. If that's what happens, then the person actually would become lighter than air. It's something to think about, anyway."

Well, I did think about it--for all of fifteen minutes--until another of the thousand interesting facts that bombard a ten-year-old came my way. It didn't have any immediate relevance to space travel for me, and so it didn't take first priority in my mind. The 'sixties, you may remember from your history books, were the decade of space, and my father used to say that if my head got any more full of space, it would be completely empty.

But then came the 'seventies with their energy crises, and the suspicion that we didn't have the resources to do anything significant with space travel; and there was the added distraction, for me, of coping with Latin and German at Covington Latin School, across the Ohio river from Cincinnati. All I had time for was an occasional glance at the latest science fiction, while I consoled myself with the thought that at least, by skipping seventh and eighth grades, I had picked up two years, and would be that much closer to designing rockets.

But by the time I got to college, space travel was a question of the Shuttle, and by the time I graduated, there was the calamity of the Challenger's blowing up with the crew aboard. Space seemed more and more like a thing of the past, not the future. As far as I was concerned, the distractions became more and more significant. I graduated as a major in physics, but started following in my father's footsteps in classics and philosophy.

Still, the old interest was not completely dead, and in my spare moments I kept up with the field, hoping that some day I could combine all my interests and somehow use my general philosophical knowledge to further space travel.

By one of those accidents that happen to all of us--the necessity to eat--I found myself in 1991 back at Xavier University in Cincinnati, doing physics once again. It still had a strong physics department, and had ties with the University of Cincinnati, which had had Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, on its faculty. I preferred it to the larger university because it was my alma mater, and was smaller and left me a bit freer--and it hired me. Besides, it had kept alive the interest in space travel, in spite of McMurdo's proof, in 1991, that miniaturization had a finite limit, and his conclusions as to the minimum weight that a space vehicle that carried humans could have. It was by that time about three orders of magnitude too great to allow us the luxury of traveling to other planets.

I had decided to see if I could poke holes in his thesis, but it seemed, after a couple of years of research, that he was right. That put paid to any dreams I might have had for establishing a colony on Mars or Jupiter, and creating a society from scratch, like the American experiment, based on rational and sane principles. I had been sure that if I could have actually arrived at some uninhabited place with a group of people who were willing to give a new way of life a try, I could, with my philosophical training, work out a kind of government which would preserve the good points of the United States without the serious problems that had arisen as the millennium turned.

In short, there were about six months in 1992 that I was severely depressed, and nearly lost my job teaching, because all I wanted to do was mope around our apartment. My sister Michele, who shared the apartment with me, knew better than to console or sympathize; and she kept my job for me by giving me a verbal poke every now and then which would make me angry enough to prepare classes just to show her she was wrong.

One day, when I was complaining about the inexorability of the laws of physics, she remarked (she was in biology herself), "You people think that physics is the be-all and end-all of everything! Inexorable laws! You tell me how a living body can maintain the high energy level it has if the Second Law of Thermodynamics is so inexorable."

"There's no violation of the law," I replied. "You know that. It uses up the energy from the environment, and the net result is lost energy."

"Sure, I know. But it doesn't get energy pumped into it; it goes looking for the energy. It's a system that doesn't run down; it runs up."

This led to an hour and a half of typical debate, with each of us fruitlessly trying to make the other see the light, which finally ended when she said, "I see what you're saying, but what I'm trying to say is that there are more ways that things can be organized than by your five basic forces; and sometimes the way parts are organized is more important than what the parts are."

She turned to go back to the kitchen, where she was making bread, and I was about to protest that if the organization came out of the parts, then how could it be more important, when it occurred to me that mass arose out of the organization of photons, and that when atoms fused there was a loss of mass, and I stopped.

I turned to the window and looked out across Victory Parkway at the woods. The way a body was organized affected its mass.

--Mystics sometimes concentrate so much that they don't have enough energy to express it as mass, and they become lighter than air.

Could we alter the organization of a body and control its mass? . . .

"Paul!" I heard a voice in my ear and felt my shoulder being shaken. "What's the matter?"


"I've been calling you for ten minutes. Are you all right?"

"Oh. Sure. I just got an idea, that's all."

"You looked as if you were just about to faint. It must have been some idea. What was it about?"

"Well, it had something to do with what you said. It's just possible that we could control the mass of a system."

"Control the m--I said that?"

"Well, not exactly. Dad once mentioned something about mystics, and--"

""Mystics! You have gone off the deep end!"

This deflated my inspiration quite a bit. After a pause, I admitted, "You're probably right. When I say it out loud, it does sound silly."

"Now wait a minute!" she answered. "I know you; you're going to give it up just because I sounded skeptical. How do you know it won't work? I have no idea what you're talking about, but if you don't check it out, then for sure it's not going to work, because if you don't look into it, no one else is going to get the same crazy idea. Look at Newton. So he's been proved wrong; think of all we've learned because he kept at his idea."

"I'm no Newton."

"That's for sure. But seriously, how do you know? He may be just a guy who got a crazy idea."

I was, I suppose, secretly egging her on to try to persuade me to pursue the subject, because it did sound really foolish, and I hadn't the faintest idea where to begin if I was going to check into it. I needed somebody behind me, and she was hitting just the right note.

The upshot was that I promised not to drop the idea; and so I began fishing in my brain for a starting-place that wasn't absolutely absurd, and hit upon trying to consider what happened when two massless photons collided and produced an electron and a positron, which had mass.