Einstein’s X-files

A burnt-out quan­tum physi­cist has to make the big­gest de­ci­sion of his ex­is­tence – life or sci­ence?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - By HARI KE­SUMA star2@thes­tar.com.my Ge­nius Steven T. Sea­gle Teddy Kristiansen

WARN­ING to Bangers, Bazin­gans or what­ever fans of The Big Bang The­ory sit­com call them­selves – stay away from Ge­nius, lest it shat­ter your idea of a quan­tum physi­cist, as the tele­vi­sion show de­picts them to be, wor­ry­ing about the fu­ture of the universe or if the Star Trek TV se­ries will ever be re­booted.

As Steven T. Sea­gle shows in his graphic novel, quan­tum physi­cists also worry about – gasp! – money, pro­mo­tions, health insurance, pre­co­cious chil­dren, sick wives and in-laws who hate them.

While midlife cri­sis is hardly a topic that will send graphic novel read­ers rush­ing to the book­shops, Sea­gle and his part­ner-in-sto­ry­telling Teddy Kristiansen de­serve some credit for their sec­ond col­lab­o­ra­tion; it is an in­ter­est­ing and even in­spir­ing read.

Ge­nius re­volves around Ted Marx – physi­cist ex­traor­di­naire, or rather, for­merly ex­traor­di­naire. Hav­ing been told he was a sci­ence prodigy all his young life, Marx as an adult finds him­self drown­ing in a sea of sci­ence prodi­gies at the physics in­sti­tute where he works.

But his fail­ure in re­al­is­ing his childhood po­ten­tial for bril­liance and mak­ing the sci­en­tific dis­cov­ery of the cen­tury pales in the com­par­i­son to his prob­lem of meet­ing his KPI (key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors) at the of­fice.

His mun­dane work pres­sure grows with his mount­ing do­mes­tic is­sues: putting food on the ta­ble and a roof over his fam­ily’s heads. Then there is a real pos­si­bil­ity that his wife might be ter­mi­nally ill, leav­ing him to cope all alone.

So when life throws you lemons, what can a self-re­spect­ing sci­en­tist do? Talk to Al­bert Einstein, of course.

Yup, Marx talks to his hero Einstein’s “spirit” for the an­swers to his life’s prob­lems.

But as he dis­cov­ers, Einstein’s for­mula, which he has rig­or­ously learnt in or­der to plumb the se­crets of the universe, can­not help him in the task of sur­viv­ing daily life.

And to his sur­prise, the big sci­en­tific dis­cov­ery he has been wait­ing for, the so­lu­tion to his prob­lem, is closer to home than he re­alises – deep in the mind of his con­temp­tu­ously non-ge­nius fa­ther-in-law.

As Marx dis­cov­ers, his some­what se­nile fa­ther-in-law was once a mil­i­tary guard to Einstein and, if he’s to be be­lieved, even Einstein’s con­fi­dante for a brief time. All th­ese years, the for­mer sol­dier taunts him, he has been keep­ing Einstein’s dark­est se­cret – one that could be even more dev­as­tat­ing than the atomic bomb if it is re­vealed – and plans to take it to his grave.

This puts Marx at a moral cross­roads. Should he do all he can to dig out Einstein’s last se­cret to save his skin, even if it means be­tray­ing his hero? Or should he pro­tect Einstein’s sci­en­tific legacy and lose ev­ery­thing, from his job and fam­ily to life as he knows it?

As ex­pected, the graphic novel is speck­led with the im­agery of atoms and equa­tions, but Kristiansen’s emo­tive art­work could not be more fit­ting in por­tray­ing the in­tan­gi­ble strug­gles of cre­ativ­ity and in­spi­ra­tion. The muted and moody hues re­flect Marx’s moral quandary, and when he reaches break­ing point, Kristiansen lets the pages burst into colour­ful ab­stracts.

Com­bined with Sea­gle’s in­ven­tive nar­ra­tion and sharp char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, Ge­nius’ il­lus­tra­tions cap­ture both the depths of hu­man emo­tion and heights of the hu­man mind.

Sea­gle’s wry hu­mour in ex­press­ing Marx’s re­la­tion­ship with his chil­dren (fun fact: Sea­gle is one of the founders of Man of Ac­tion, the stu­dio that cre­ated Ben 10!), gives a fresh twist to what could have turned into a drab “fam­ily drama”.

The fun­ni­est mo­ments are Marx’s ex­changes with his son. Dur­ing his birds-and-bees lec­ture, for ex­am­ple, Marx takes a lib­er­ally prag­matic ap­proach to hem in his hor­monal son’s car­nal cu­rios­ity. With­out go­ing into specifics, it in­volves the old car­rot-and-stick ap­proach, the car­rot be­ing a used car (don’t ask about the stick).

Ul­ti­mately, it is Marx’s con­ver­sa­tions with his wife that grounds the story, which adds to the poignancy of the mo­ment he finds faith again in his ghostly hero’s tru­isms: that God does not play dice with the universe and one’s world, or some sto­ries, can end with a whim­per, not a bang.

Ge­nius and Iron, Or The War Af­ter are avail­able at the graphic nov­els sec­tion of Ki­noku­niya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail ebd3 kbm@ki­noku­niya.co.jp or visit www.ki­noku­niya. com/my/.

Teddy Kristiansen’s emo­tive art­work could not be more fit­ting in por­tray­ing the in­tan­gi­ble strug­gles of cre­ativ­ity and in­spi­ra­tion.

When life throws you lemons, what can a sel­f­re­spect­ing sci­en­tist do? Talk to al­bert einstein, of course.

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