"William E. Emba"|
A number theorist is suffering from frequent and
inexplicable suicide attempts, the latest victim of a small epidemic among
academia. In between lectures on Pascal's triangle and the binomial
theorem and numerous other mathematical details, along with several close
calls on his life, the number theorist investigates a puzzling statistical
anomaly and comes to a startling (and dangerous) conclusion about society.
This is a rather cute book, and I think it's a shame that it can only be
found by looking to used booksellers. However, there seem to be a lot of
copies out there (I found a really nice first edition quite cheap) and it's
worth taking a look at. Things that I think are especially worth
I guess I ought to admit that I found the ending a bit disappointing, but
perhaps that is just my taste. For the rest of it, I agree with the review
on the cover which says "an SF novel so biting funny, so sharply
satirical..." I am quite grateful to "Mr. Emba" for pointing it out to me.
- An interesting view of the future (the year 2196), in which University
lectures are like prime-time TV shows [well, I think they are quite a bit
more like TV shows now than when Pohl wrote this; he certainly caught on to this
trend early], marriage is a short-term contract, and our coastlines are
surrounded by floating "texases" (power stations).
- The mathematicians all focus much of their efforts on creating
mnemonic devices for remembering mathematical definitions and
theorems. (Quoting "Master Carl" from the book: "A mathematician must know
these simple classical facts and definitions as well as he knows that
February has 28 days, and in the same way. By mnemonics!") For example:
"If a number set M is closed by subtraction
A modul is the term
for this transaction."
"Strike the Twos and strike the Threes
The Sieve of Eratosthenes!
When the multiples sublime,
The numbers that are left, are prime."
- The investigation into the statistical anomoly is a bit far fetched
and unbelievable, but still it is an interesting (and important) role for
mathematics in the story.