the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘math

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

published in March 2019

where I got it: purchased new

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Time travel is quickly becoming my favorite science fiction subgenre.  I blame Doctor Who, who made it look fun, safe, and something that can be resolved in an hour.  I blame my love for the phrase “what could possibly go wrong?”. So yeah, time travel is the best!  Novellas? Also my new fave, and the best.

 

If you enjoy time travel stories, if you want a novella that’s excellently paced and grabs you on page one, a story that’s packed full of smart information but never info dumps, a story will great characters and a compelling story line, Permafrost is for you.

 

50 years from now,   we’ve just about killed the Earth, our crops are dying, our soil can’t grow anything, seed banks that we thought would sustain us have either failed or the seeds won’t grow in our dead soil.  The last generation of humans has already been born. It’s looking pretty grim.  Remember the opening of the movie Interstellar? It’s a little like that, except we don’t have space travel, we don’t have a black hole, and we don’t have any other planets we can maybe colonize.  We don’t have any of those things, but what we do have is math and a fledgling time travel project. The goal is to go back in time, get viable seeds, and bring them to the future.

 

Except you can’t send people or objects back and forth through time.  But you can send pairs of particles. The goal of Dr. Cho’s Permafrost project is to send messages back in time so that seeds can be placed somewhere, so that in the future his project can find them.  Cho recruits the elderly school teacher Valentina to his cause, her connection to his work is even more vital than the fact that her mother invented the mathematical equations that time travel hinges on.

 

Ok, so what really happens if you do successfully change the past? No one ever put a cache of seeds somewhere,  but then time travelers go back in time do exactly that. Once upon a time, did that event never occur?  On a smaller scale, if the time travel math shows that in five minutes you will drop your pen, and then the moment comes and your purposely drop two pens, what happens?

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Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan

published in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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Three cheers to Egan for being wildly innovative and offering a triple threat in Clockwork Rocket – a four dimensional world that has it’s own physics,  a fully developed alien race with it’s own cultural norms and unique biology, and to top it off he’s placed his story in a time where our aliens are experiencing an enlightening time, a period full of scientific exploration and inventions, where physicists and chemists are learning the rules of how their universe works, the beginning of their modern age.  Egan certainly is ambitious, I’ll give him  that.

Clockwork Rocket opens with our main character Yalda, as she leaves her rural home and ventures into the big city for an education at the university. Many people feel that it’s a waste to educate women, but Yalda’s father felt all his children should have the opportunity for an education.  Egan drops the reader into the story in the deep end, but don’t worry, all will be revealed.

As Yalda completes her education, she falls in with a feminist group, a group of women who have either left their mates, or have decided they aren’t interested in mating, and all of whom illegally take birth control chemicals.  Birth control is incredibly important, and not for the obvious reasons.  These beings have completely different biology than we do, and telling you more would be a major spoiler. As interesting as that is, it’s not even the main plot line.  Yalda and her fellow physicists have discovered something very dangerous that’s hurtling through space towards their planet. Something that is moving orthoganally, at an angle to the expected dimensions. Their society is just discovering science, just discovering the laws of physics, how can they possibly come up with the technology needed to save their planet?

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Mathochist: Someone who sucks at math, and probably failed calculus a few times, yet voluntarily purchases and reads books about math, the history of math, fractals, etc, because it just feels so good.  i.e.: Me.

It’s a major faux pas to book-blog about a book you haven’t finished yet, isn’t it?  pfft. I’m a mathochist AND a faux pas blogger. And I have this sudden urge to listen to an old Tom Lehrer CD.

Which brings us in a very round about way to Ian Stewart’s Flatterland: like Flatland, but more so. You remember Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, don’t you?  Came out like a hundred years ago, involves a 3-dimensional person who visits a 2-dimentional world called Flatland, and fails to explain to the flatlanders that there is a whole  new world out there?  It also involved much in the way of criticism and satire about Victorian England, all of which was lost on me. I was in it for the math.

So back to Stewart’s homage/sequel Flatterland: imagine if Richard Feynman’s seventh easy piece was written a la Alice in Wonderland, and every creature and or place taught you in the easiest language imaginable everything you ever wanted to know about math, the universe, and everything?  But as much as I love Feynman, he was never this witty.  All that, and I haven’t even finished reading the book yet!

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This review was originally posted here in October of 2008. Only after I read this book, and most of Stephenson’s Baroque cycle, did I realize that Cryptonomicon is not only vintage standard Stephenson, but an unofficial fourth book in the Baroque Cycle.

Not quite science fiction, and nothing like what I expected, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon is a mental mind screw of the highest voltage.

I read Cory Doctorow’s short story Little Brother a few weeks ago. Enthralled, I couldn’t help but read every snippet of end note and commentary at the end, in which Doctorow mentions how inspired he was by Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. Off I was to the library, to seek out what seemed to be the only copy in the county library system.

A novice in the science of crypto (that’s code breaking for you other novices), I wasn’t expecting a history lesson that sent me right to Google Maps to find all these places in the Pacific Theater of WWII (it is too bad the book didn’t have any handy maps). Documentaries on TV might only mention the German Enigma machine these days, but there was plenty of other code breaking going on during the war, much of it based on random numbers, mathematical equations, and the gamble that a hundred people in a room backwards engineering the formula wouldn’t figure it out in years. It was a pretty smart gamble, until early computers showed up, and could crunch the numbers in a matter of days.

Math buddines Alan Turing, Lawrence Waterhouse, and Rudolf von Hackleheber meet at Princeton in the 30s, and sit around talking math. At the beginning of the war, Turing heads to England, Hackleheber to Germany, and the socially inept Waterhouse gets bounced all over the place breaking enemy codes like nobodies business. The world powers are up to their eye balls in Enigma, Windtalkers, and any other way of getting secret messages across the oceans. Meanwhile, marine Bobby Shaftoe is stuck in the Philippines trying not to get shot, and hoping his Filipino girlfriend isn’t pregnant. For the first few hundred pages, Stephenson introduces a quadratic equation worth of characters. Would be a waste if they all didn’t meet up eventually in the same place at the same time, wouldn’t it. Read the rest of this entry »


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.