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Apartheid, Superstrings and Mordecai Thubana (1991)
Michael Bishop

I don't want to get into a debate here about whether superstrings are math or physics. I know mathematicians and physicists who would argue (with some good points on each side) that it is in their area of study and not the other. Similarly, I know mathematicians and physicists both who think superstrings are a waste of time, and would argue that it is in the other area of study. (These mathematicians would say derisively "It's not math at all, just `physics'" and in the same tone a physicist might say "That's not physics, just `math'.")

For the purpose of this description, let's just accept that superstring theory is both mathematics and physics. In which case, this story counts as mathematical fiction. In it, a white Afrikaaner is forced by bad circumstance (a traffic accident involving an elephant) to take a bus ride with black workers. From a roofer named Mordecai Thubana, he learns a bit about string theory and a lot about apartheid.

The story is, fortunately, dated. There is mention of Soviet spaceflights to Mars, which I suppose means that it is set in the `future' which neither the Soviet Union nor Apartheid survived long enough to see. Nevertheless, it is still interesting (in an eerie way) and full of bizarre analogies between one of the most complicated theories of mathematical physics and one of the most unjust forms of government.

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Works Similar to Apartheid, Superstrings and Mordecai Thubana
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Against the Odds by Martin Gardner
  2. The Theory of Everything by Lisa Grunwald
  3. River of Gods by Ian McDonald
  4. The Blue Door by Tanya Barfield
  5. Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
  6. Good Benito by Alan P. Lightman
  7. Planck Zero by Stephen Baxter
  8. Distress by Greg Egan
  9. Properties of Light by Rebecca Goldstein
  10. Homage by Ross Kagan Marks (director) / Mark Medoff (screenplay)
Ratings for Apartheid, Superstrings and Mordecai Thubana:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

TopicMathematical Physics,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)