a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|In this noir thriller, a British math grad student discovers antique lab equipment which allows him to see into the past and winds up murdering his girlfriend. Sex (explicitly described) and interpersonal relationships seem to be a greater focus of the book than the math, the murder or the science fiction elements, but each has an integral part to play here.
In one side story, we learn quite a bit about the (anti-)protagonist's thesis advisor, whose name happens to be Bela Bartok. (Funny, I had a character named Igor Stravinsky in one of my stories!) Killing Time presents the view that, since mathematicians "peak" early, a thesis advisor is possessive about the work produced by his/her grad students. (I'm not sure to what extent this view is justified. I can certainly think of individual examples in which this appears to have been the case. However, I've also read articles arguing that the whole idea that mathematicians are past their prime after age 40 is a bogus stereotype.) Bartok is proud of some work he did when he was young, proving that there is a unique tiling of a certain obscure type. But during the course of the novel a young mathematician finds another such tiling, contradicting Bartok's earlier result. Through political manipulations, Bartok is able to ensure that the new result is not published (saving his own reputation, but also apparently rewarding the young guy with a position at Harvard).
Eventually, the protagonist winds up at Harvard collaborating with the mathematician who found the flaw in Bartok's work. They not only work successfully as co-authors on their math research, but also become wealthy using advanced mathematics to guide their investments.
I try to note when the mathematicians in mathematical fiction are portrayed as evil, anti-social or insane. In this case, I would say that the main character has all three traits. Of course, that makes the story more interesting. However, I continue to fear that the prevalence of these characteristics in mathematicians in fiction will mislead the readers into thinking that this is what mathematicians are really like. As far as I can tell, real mathematicians are no more likely to be insane, anti-social or evil than people in any other profession, despite the impression one may get from fiction.
It appears that this book has only been published in Britain, but I was able to obtain copies in the US from used book sellers.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)