|The supporting character of "Slipstick" Libby in this classic science fiction novel is a mathematician, or at least mathematically inclined. This has little to do with the novel's main plot, which concerns a secret society of humans who have lengthened their lifespans well beyond 100 years through selective breeding and flee the planet after their existence is revealed.
Here are a few mathematical highlights from this book:
The character of "Slipstick" Libby also appears in Heinlein's Misfit.
- Most significantly, Libby attributes his discovery of a space drive that seems to require no power to a mathematical observation:
|(quoted from Methuselah's Children)|
The so-called law of conservation of energy was merely a working hypothesis, unproved and unprovable, used to describe gross phenomena. Its terms apply only to the older, dynamic concept of the world. In a plenum conceived as a static grid of relationships, a violation of that law is nothing more startling than a discontinuous function, to be noted and described. That's what I did. I saw a discontinuity in the mathematical model of the aspect of mass-energy called inertia. I applied it. The mathematical model turned out to be similar to the real world. That was the only hazard, really -- one never knows that mathematical model is similar to the real world until you try it.
- When asked by Lazarus Long how he is passing his time while stranded on a distant planet, Libby answers "Same as always. Think about mathematics... Or I just watch the clouds integrate. There are amusing mathematical relationships everywhere if you are on the lookout for them. In the ripples on the water, or in the shapes of breasts -- elegant fifth-order functions." Long says "Huh? You mean `fourth order.'" But, Libby corrects him: "Fifth order, you omitted the time variable. I like fifth-order equations...You find 'em in fish, too." (As far as I can tell, this is just nonsense. The order of an equation is not determined by the number of variables in it!)
- As Libby sets to finding "a mathematics which would elegantly" reconcile the Michelson-Morley experiment with his newfound ability to travel faster than light, he thinks to himself "Mmmm...what was the least number of para-dimensions indispensably necessary to contain the augmented plenum using a sheaf of postulates affirming ---".
- To determine how long they have been gone from the solar system when they return, Libby uses the positions of the planets as a "timepiece", claiming that because their periods are incommensurate these completely identify the moment in time (like a "clock with nine hands").
Thanks to Chris Winter for suggesting that I include this book in my database!