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Einstein's Theory of Special Relatives

Preston Grassmann became a freelance writer after working as a regular reviewer for Locus Magazine. He was born in California and educated at U.C. Berkeley, where he lived on the same block as Philip K. Dick. His recent work has been published in Nature Magazine, Futures 2 (Tor), Mythic Delirium, Apex, and AE: Canadian Science Fiction. He currently blogs for Nature and has an international science fiction essay series for Locus called The Cosmic Village.
Standing outside his house, Einstein thinks about the subjective nature of time and relatives. At the edge of an event horizon, there are theories about time dilation, but the nature of his relatives will explain his lack of punctuality better than relativity. He hears their loud voices beyond the door, realizing how much easier it is to make laws for stars and light than the behavior of in-laws.
As he watches them from the doorway, he wishes they were more like celestial bodies. Despite their influence on the space around them, they are not dependent on mass, but the inescapable gravity of guilt. He is never far enough away to avoid its pull.
"Solving the world's problems?" his cousin asks, slapping him on the shoulder, mass and energy exchanged.
"There are still many I can't figure out yet," he says, watching his wife approach from across the room. He tries to remember that energy cannot be destroyed; it can only change from one form to another. He thinks of quasars and galactic nuclei, the effects of gravitational lensing--energy equals mass times light squared.
"What are you working on now?" his cousin asks.
"You might call it a theory of relatives," he says, watching the others in the room greet him with nods and raised arms, each according to their own principles of mass and motion.
"Surely you mean relativity?"
"Other problems are far more difficult," Einstein says as his wife stands in front of him.
"Really?" his cousin says with a look of genuine surprise.
"Apparently, punctuality is one of them," his wife says.
Suddenly, all his theories about the universe are meaningless compared to the domestic concerns of being late.
His cousin laughs.
Einstein doesn't.
"It's really quite remarkable," she says.
"What's that?" Einstein asks, realizing too late that he's falling deeper into the singularity.
"You can figure out time and space, but you can never arrive on time."
"I've been working on important equations...," he says, remembering a theory of how a person entering an event horizon will appear frozen at its edge forever by an outside observer.
"I know, I know," she says with a deceptive smile. "Imagination is more important than reality."
"I had work to finish," Einstein says, imagining the crushing force of the event, wondering if some form of life can exist on the other side.
Now, she watches him warily from over the edge of her glass, with an expression he has never been able to figure out. He thinks of "spooky action at a distance," because he can feel her influence over him. Without saying a word, she reminds him of how his theories mean nothing compared to being late.
"Well," she says.
"Well, what?" he asks, energies colliding in his mind. This is not as simple as an innate force. There are no chalkboard theories that can explain how he should respond.
But then he recalls the missing part of the equation; those two words that he never quite remembers to say until it's too late, but he says them now.
"Was that so hard?" she asks, lifting her glass with a smile.
Harder than you think, he says to himself, imagining the vacuum and silence of space, wishing that his own life could be as easy as relativity.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 23rd, 2017


Einstein's Theory of Special Relatives began as a thought experiment: How would a scientist obsessed with large-scale theoretical concepts deal with issues of domesticity? Einstein lost prize money in bad investments, had love affairs, and suffered from failed marriages; so it wasn't much of a stretch to imagine how he might find refuge in his theoretical concepts. Here, Einstein's theories of relativity are re-imagined in terms of social dynamics and family interaction. As it turns out, such theories and grand-scale thinking are ill equipped to deal with the concerns of domestic life.

- Preston Grassmann

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