a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|I loved this plot from the moment I heard about it: A teenage math genius learns through comic books left for her by her mother that her grandmother who invented time travel needs her help solving some equations.
And, indeed, after finally reading the novel, I do still love the plot. But, the way it was done did not quite suit my tastes and so I wish it had been handled differently. Still, I did enjoy it and can recommend it to anyone who thinks the idea of a math prodigy receiving hidden messages from her mother in the form of comic books in which her grandmother is portrayed as a super hero named "Atomic Anna" sounds pretty cool.
In the novel, Anna Berkova is a scientist who played a fundamental role in the Soviet nuclear weapons program at the start of World War II and in designing the Chernobyl power plant. She comes to believe that gravity waves created by nuclear reactions can be utilized for time travel. (Essentially, one "catches the wave" and uses it to travel to any point in spacetime.) She considered this only theoretical, until the meltdown at Chernobyl hits the experimental device she was holding and unexpectedly sends her into the future where she meets her daughter, who is dying of a gunshot wound. Of course, Anna wants to use the time machine now to save her daughter. Her daughter urges her to use the time machine to save her own daughter, Anna's granddaughter, Raisa. Moreover, Anna also feels an obligation to use the invention to prevent the many deaths caused by the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Unfortunately, she is not able to do all of those things since she gets sicker with each time "jump".
Perhaps I should mention at this point that none of these three generations of women really knows each other. Anna sent her daughter to America with friends when she was an infant, and Raisa was raised by those same friends after her mother was sent to prison. Raisa receives comic books called "Atomic Anna" which she knows are drawn by her mother, Molly, but does not realize that the story about superheroes sharing their names are actually about her, her mother, and her grandmother. Raisa also meets her grandmother a couple of times, but does not recognize her for who she is -- at least not at first. But, her grandmother recognizes her genius even when she is a little girl and begins adding clues, equations, and requests for help to the comic books that are left for her.
The book certainly describes Raisa as a mathematical genius, and shows her winning math competitions. But, it confuses math and physics. For example, when her boyfriend asks her to explain why mathematical proof is so important, Raisa uses Einstein's "disproof" of Newtonian physics as an example. However, this is not correct. There is nothing mathematically or logically wrong with Newton's description of physics in terms of calculus in Euclidean space. It is a perfectly consistent mathematical construction and cannot be mathematically disproved. The only problem with it is that it doesn't describe the universe we live in. It does not accurately predict the outcomes of experiments we can do or the measurements we can make. So, it is physically wrong, but not mathematically wrong. Aside from failing to distinguish between math and physics, the author also gets the physics wrong. Raisa's big discovery is supposed to be succeeding where Einstein failed, in combining gravity with the theory of electromagnetic waves. Except, that's not right. Einstein had no trouble with those two things. In fact, electromagnetic waves were the inspiration for relativity, and as Kaluza-Klein theory shows, relativity actually has Maxwell's equations "baked" right into it. One of the first "tests" of general relativity was its extremely accurate prediction about how light waves would be affected by gravity, which was verified through astronomical observations. So, contrary to what the book suggests, Einstein had no problem with gravity and electromagnetism. (The famous difficulty is in combining gravity with quantum physics, which is different and not really addressed here.)
Here are a few mathematical highlights:
In summary, this is an ambitious and entertaining book which largely succeeds, but would have worked better for me had the author known more about math and physics.
|More information about this work can be found at www.amazon.com.
|(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)
Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books
let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.
(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)