|Time traveller Wallace John Steinhope believes that he will be able to help
his hero, Isaac Newton, avoid the tedium of computation by bringing him an electronic
calculator that can do simple arithmetic. Unfortunately, Newton concludes
(perhaps reasonably, given what he knows and what he is shown) that the
calculator is a tool of Satan and so is not the grateful recipient that
Wallace had expected. (Perhaps the point is this: the story serves as a kind of "myth"
to explain why Newton, revered today for his brilliant scientific mind, turned to
religion and superstition when he became older.)
It is interesting "meeting" Newton in this story. Both the contagious
excitement of the time traveller in meeting him and his old English dialect
add to the feeling I had (as the reader) that I was actually meeting Newton
IMHO, the whole idea that Newton was in need of a calculator is a rather confused
notion. In developing the theory of calculus and determining the force of
gravity exerted by any mass on any other mass, I do not think Isaac Newton
spent much time on particular computations with specific values.
This story was published in Omni (January 1979) and then republished in The Best of
Omni Science Fiction Number 3. Most recently, it was included in a book of (mostly non-fictional) essays by Nahin, Number Crunching.
(This story is apparently not at all related
to the non-fiction book of the same title.)
Great story, Alex. I had heard of this story long ago, but I never found the magazine. You helped my wife track down a copy of the story and she gave it me so "Newton's Gift" became "Eric's Gift" for my birthday. The story is shorter than I had imagined, but it packs a concentrated punch. Nahin glosses over the hows and whys of the time machine. Seems like an easily accessible time machine would be quite dangerous for most people and what they might do. A very entertaining read, and I think your comments are spot on. I want to track down more of Nahin's time travel stories. Thanks for your help! Eric