Duchamp Versus Einstein – by Christopher Hinz & Etan Ilfeld (Review)


Speculative, Scifi, Alt-History

Angry Robot; October 8, 2019

72 pages (ebook)

1.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

The entire premise seems to be ‘What if Marcel Duchamp and Albert Einstein played chess?’

And that’s it.

Now, if you could make it past this and still be interested in the story, someone might be forgiven the obvious question of: ‘Why?’, instead focusing on: ‘How would they do that?’ because, as far as I know or could figure out, Duchamp and Einstein never met. There’s also the fact that while Duchamp turned into quite the chess player later in life, Einstein never showed it much interest. So, why would they play?

Enter a mysterious, extra-terrestrial Observer, as seen in such things as John Carter, MIB, the Themis Files, etc. She, for some reason, decides to facilitate the game. Which she does through seducing both men.

Apparently inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s archived letters (which are, yes, real), though the novella itself doesn’t seem to include any real ones. Instead, it introduces a series of letters, newly discovered in 2061, following the 3rd World War. This is the first and only time this event or the future is mentioned, which was just odd.

So… I liked the description of the world. I never had a problem picturing any of the things mentioned in the text. Duchamp Versus Einstein was well described and well-written.

Otherwise, it was awful.

There’s no real plot, just the premise ‘what would’ve happened if these two dudes played chess’. The ending was incredibly unsatisfying. Abrupt. The whole thing likely was nothing but an allegory for the illusion of free will. Neither of the characters are believable as their historic counterparts. Well, maybe Duchamp. More so than the portrayal of Einstein, at least. The pacing was strange, the time-skips stranger, the character Stella the strangest.


While Duchamp Versus Einstein initially seemed mildly intriguing, whatever appeal it held soon faded. So… nope, can’t recommend it. I liked the description. Really didn’t care for anything else. Like, nothing. The pacing, the nonexistent plot, the characters, the lack of realism, the premise. The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying. Definitely not my cup of tea.