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December 13, 2003

Old text, future interference
Posted by Teresa at 11:38 PM * 62 comments

The cheery news of the moment, if you’re a math historian or just have a broad streak of geek in your makeup, is that a palimpsest text of a treatise by Archimedes, lately recovered via clever image reconstruction techniques, has turned out to be a startlingly advanced piece of work:

Twenty-two hundred years ago, the great Greek mathematician Archimedes wrote a treatise called the Stomachion. Unlike his other writings, it soon fell into obscurity. Little of it survived, and no one knew what to make of it.

But now a historian of mathematics at Stanford, sifting through ancient parchment overwritten by monks and nearly ruined by mold, appears to have solved the mystery of what the treatise was about. In the process, he has opened a surprising new window on the work of the genius best remembered (perhaps apocryphally) for his cry of “Eureka!” when he discovered a clever way to determine whether a king’s crown was pure gold.

The Stomachion, concludes the historian, Dr. Reviel Netz, was far ahead of its time: a treatise on combinatorics, a field that did not come into its own until the rise of computer science.

The goal of combinatorics is to determine how many ways a given problem can be solved. And finding the number of ways that the problem posed in the Stomachion (pronounced sto-MOCK-yon) can be solved is so difficult that when Dr. Netz asked a team of four combinatorics experts to do it, it took them six weeks.
That’s from the New York Times. It’s an interesting story, and comes with a picture of the recovered text under its cross-written Greek prayerbook text, plus a couple of nifty diagrams showing what Archimedes was on about. Check it out. What really caught my attention, though, was a one-paragraph bit on the second page:
It was chance that led Dr. Netz to his first insight into the nature of the Stomachion. Last August, he says, just as he was about to start transcribing one of the manuscript pages, he got a gift in the mail, a blue cut-glass model of a Stomachion puzzle. It was made by a retired businessman from California who found Dr. Netz on the Internet as a renowned Archimedes scholar. Looking at the model, Dr. Netz realized that a diagram on the page he was transcribing was actually a rearrangement of the pieces of the Stomachion puzzle. Suddenly, he understood what Archimedes was getting at.
Uh-huh. Very likely. Just at that moment, Dr. Netz happens to get an elaborate gift out of the blue, from a “retired businessman in California” whose hobby just happens to be making cut-glass models of mathematics puzzles, and who just happened to run across Dr. Netz (I steadfastly refuse to comment on that name) on the Web, and be inspired to send him the exact thing he needed to figure out that treatise.

Bloody time travelers, tampering again. Is this their idea of circumspect influence?

(Link via Patrick, who put Buffy on Pause to read me the first few paragraphs of the article. Is he good, or what?)

Addendum: Virge commented:
An assistant professor historic rediscovered works combinatoric.
He (despite the monks’ cleaning)
gave the manuscript meaning
to further his fame meteoric.
Comments on Old text, future interference:
#1 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 12:38 AM:

"Uh-huh. Very likely. Just at that moment..."

That struck me as rather odd as well.

Dr. Netz is lucky the puzzle wasn't an intricately carved and gilded box.

#2 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 02:50 AM:

Perhaps the inverse of the Person from Porlock who prevented the rest of KUBLAI KHAN from being written, because there were Things Man Was Not Meant to Know encoded there?

#3 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 09:38 AM:

And is it a coincidence that the Nielsen Haydens were watching Buffy when they got this news? I think not. Joss Whedon, of course, is also clearly a time traveller.

It will, of course, be some time before this connection leads to the famous Epiphany of Teresa of Brooklyn, wherein she woke (or will wake) in the middle of the night with a complete formulation of what will be (or has come to be) known as [censored by order of the Department of Temporal Security].

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 11:20 AM:

The text of a postcard message, quoted in the first and longer version of "Over Rough Terrain" (Izzard #9, February 1987):

Do you ever find yourself thinking that wherever you go, people are surreptitiously watching you? And taking notes? And they're all grad students? And they're all time travellers? And you wonder: What am I going to do? Did I do it already? ... I always try to act like I haven't noticed them.

#5 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 11:27 AM:

They're just watching to make sure that the agents from the grim alternate future where the U.S. has turned into an Orwellian police state don't---Hey, wait a minute---

#6 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 12:06 PM:

It's worth looking at the nice color diagrams, references, and the like at:
"...In November 2003, Bill Cutler found there to be 536 possible distinct arrangements of the pieces into a square, illustrated above, where solutions that are equivalent by rotation and reflection are considered identical ..."

My Math Advisor when I earned my 1st two B.S. degrees at Caltech was Herbert J. Ryser. He was considered by some "the King of Combinatorics."
[see footnote]

The official bio does NOT mention the effect his work had on Cryptography. That would put us into Neal Stephenson "Cryptonomicon" territory.

But consider this. If Archimedes was doing Combinatorics, and we know there were metal analog computers for Astronomy in the greater Greek worlds (Antikythera Mechanism), then -- could it be that Archimedes was actually like Babbage, invented the digital computer, it was built two millennia ago, and the ancient world was secretly computerized? I think the Dark Ages were caused by link rot. Or the Church cracking down on Gothic Blogs...

Footnote: [According to his bio on Ohio State's web domain: He was born on July 28, 1923 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Fred G. and Edna (Huels) Ryser. He attended the University of Wisconsin, receiving a BA. in 1945, an MA. in 1947, and a Ph.D. in 1948. His doctoral thesis "Rational Vector Spaces" was written under the direction of C. J. Everett and Cyrus C. MacDuffee. He then spent the year 1948-1949 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.]

[In 1949 he was appointed assistant professor at Ohio State. He was promoted to associate professor in 1952 and to professor in 1955. His presence at Ohio State together with Marshall Hall established a tradition of excellence in combinatorics in the department. While at Ohio State, Ryser directed four Ph.D. students.]

[In 1962 Ryser accepted an appointment at Syracuse University, then in 1967 he moved to California Institute of Technology, where he spent the rest of his life.]

[Ryser is widely regarded as one of the major figures in combinatorics in the 20th century. Already in his final year of graduate studies at Wisconsin, he collaborated with R. H. Bruck to prove the famous Bruck-Ryser theorem, which states that there are no projective planes of order n congruent to 1 or 2 mod 4, if n has an odd power prime factor congruent to 3. To date this is the only general nonexistence theorem for finite projective planes. In 1950 he and S. Chowla extended the nonexistence theorem to symmetric block designs. Later he found a short and elegant proof of this theorem using the Witt cancellation law.]

[Ryser contributed to many different parts of combinatorics, especially to the theory of combinatorial designs, finite set systems, and the permanent and other combinatorial functions. His seminal book "Combinatorial Mathematics" in the MAA Carus Monograph series is a classic which has enticed many young mathematics students into this area. He was a master expositor and a great teacher, winning several teaching awards at Caltech. He directed 12 Ph.D. students.]

[Ryser served as editor of the Journal of Combinatorial Theory, Linear and Multilinear Algebra, and the Journal of Algebra for many years. He also participated in the Visiting Lecturers' Program of the MAA for over 10 years.
He died on July 12, 1985 in Pasadena.]

#7 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 12:18 PM:

Oh, and about Time Travel, see:

[warning: part of huge 400+ Kilobyte page, loads slowly.

Some important early time travel subcategories, and their first published
examples include:

Present to Future: "Anno 7603", by Norwegian playwright Johan Hermann Wessel (1781)

Present to Past: "Missing One's Coach", anonymous, Dublin Literary Magazine,
1838, sends narrator back a millennium

Future to Present: "An Uncommon Sort of Spectre", Edward Page Mitchell, 1879
(or should I count the Ghost of Christmas Future in Charles Dickens'
"A Christmas Carol" (1843)?

Past to Present: "The Hour Glass", Robert Barr, [The Strand magazine,
December 1898]

Time Machine: 7 years before H. G. Well's "The Time Machine", there was
"The Clock That Went Backwards", by Edward Page Mitchell,
[The New York Sun, 18 September 1881]

Bottom line, however, so far a Physics, Math, and Philosphy agrees (excluding SF authors):

It MAY BE possible to "participate in the past" by travlling back in a time machine.

It is INCONSISTENT to think that you can "change the past." In what philosophers call the "block universe", looking at 4-dimesnional space-time as a whole, NOTHING CHANGES.

There is not one past, before a time traveller arrives, then a second, changed by said traveller (and then a 3rd after the time patrol changes back to status quo).

I've taught a class on Time Travel many times, and lectured on this at cons.

Or is that what THEY want you to think? Bwaahaaa ha ha haaaa...

#8 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 02:22 PM:

I took a class last fall (2002) from Reviel Netz on "The Invention of Science." Essentially, science from the ancient Greeks through maybe 500AD. Very cool (yet geeky) guy....when we were talking about the conception of the "mad scientist", we were treated to an excerpt from his favorite film....the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

#10 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 03:13 PM:

Oliviacw: You seem to be implying that cool and geeky may be mutually exclusive. Not around our house.


#11 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 06:20 PM:

Jonathan VP:

I believe that opinions about the immutability of the past continue to be somewhat mutable.

In our own field, we've got Greg Egan's sleight of hand, where he attacks our notions of sequence and causality, attempting to shore up his pitch for multiple, branching universes with appeals to quantum mechanics. (Events that we're calling "the past" may not really have collapsed yet.)

Admittedly, Egan's rationale is kind of a shell game, but I've seen other statements from mathematicians, philosophers and physicists who now question the consistent "one-universe, only" model that Minkowski formulated.

((Of course, as we all know, the "one Universe only" conceit perpetrated by Marv Wolfman and his Linear Men collapsed on itself, several years ago, when Rip Hunter and Mark Waid restored the Multiverse.))

#12 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 08:36 PM:

It's called the Observer Effect in some of the fictional/gaming lit. You can't change the past if anyone noticed it. So, you can't keep Oswald (or whoever, pace the tinhat crowd) from killing Kennedy, but you can swipe a sample of Kennedy's brain tissue from the side of the road.

I remember an episode of Quantum Leap where he was sent back into Oswald. He didn't keep him from killing Kennedy, and he thought he'd failed, until they told him that "the first time" (I hear you screaming, JvP) he killed Jackie, too.

#13 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 08:56 PM:

I've long been fond of two classical past-alteration hypotheses:

De Camp: attempting to alter the past creates such a huge stress in space-time that the would-be alterer gets snapped back to his point of origin, rather the worse for wear. ("A Gun for Dinosaur".)

Brunner: if it is possible to alter the past, some time traveler will do something to cancel the invention of time travel. ("The Fullness of Time" (last of three-part fixup Times Without Number).)

This reminds me of the reply to a question I asked many months ago here; looking at why so many would-be authors have (and act on) strange ideas about publishing, -"Is there anything as solitary and undemanding of resources as writing?"- was answered "Theoretical mathematics." I'm in no position to judge -- 30 years ago I gave up in the semester after first-year calculus -- but I'm not surprised that an individual thinker could have answered a mathematical poser long before the question categorized.

#14 ::: Saheli ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2003, 09:18 PM:

Does anyone know of any really good mathematically oriented science fiction? Mathematics is always the thing that reaches forward the first, truly a little too far ahead of its time. And mathematicians make for such interesting characters, you'd think there'd be more of them out in the speculative canon--but perhaps I'm just ignorant? The image of time travelling spooks trying to fix the big book of proofs is too cool to pass up.

#15 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 12:35 AM:

Just because I was here first: find Rudy Rucker's anthology MATHENAUTS, which contains nothing else but, by a variety of authors over several decades.

There have been a few novels about crypto lately, which overcomes the somewhat ethereal nature of "pure mathematics" stories by allowing you to have lots of people trying to kill each other over the big secret.

Suddenly it's obvious that Evariste Galois had gotten a crowbar into polyalphabetics, and the Tespies (Temporal Espionage folks) had to nail him for the chronoffence of Premature Inspiration. Rather like they got Kit Marlowe and Archimedes, but I'm working very close to the edge here.

#16 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 01:53 AM:

The grand tour:

#17 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 04:44 AM:

Being one who aspires to cool yet geeky status myself, I was just clarifying the kind of coolness....geeky, as opposed to jocky, perhaps!

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 08:25 AM:

I'll go for all of it but the Person from Porlock. Authors are really good at making things up.

#19 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 09:03 AM:

An assistant professor historic
rediscovered works combinatoric.
He (despite the monks' cleaning)
gave the manuscript meaning
to further his fame meteoric.

#20 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 09:13 AM:

Bah! All knowledge of the human word animal, is insignificant, when his fictitious word world is compared to Nature's own Dynamic & Harmonic Time Cube'sa0Creationa0Principle.

#21 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 10:10 AM:

Dr. Netz's opportune package should be added to the long list of serendipitous discoveries/inspirations quite common to science and math. Which, in light of this discussion, makes me wonder if scientific progress is nothing more than Future Folks seeding data. And if that's the case, then I'd like to rail against one of this group and demand to know why they never deemed my projects worthy of such interference. Or maybe I provided them with entertainment - six months without luck trying to grow bacteria has got to be amusing to someone. Maybe even me after more time has passed.

*walks away muttering about prejudiced time travellers*

#22 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 12:24 PM:

Kellie, what if your recalcitrant bacteria were being killed by the time travelers? Maybe in the original timeline you're the discoverer of something that Man Is Not Meant To Know.

#23 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 01:01 PM:

(Link via Patrick, who put Buffy on Pause to read me the first few paragraphs of the article...

Patrick watches...Buffy???


#24 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 01:16 PM:

Anne, great. Before my project was not important enough. Now it's too important. *sigh* But if Man Is Not Meant To Know It, how do the time travelers know it? Or are we speaking of an Alien Consortuim of Time Travelers? Like the League of Extraordinary Green Men?

#25 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 02:13 PM:

Kellie: Uh. Maybe the time cops are the Last Heroic Remnant of the advanced society destroyed by the hive-mind made up of your critters?

Or not. I'm suffering from final-exam brainmelt, so I think I'll just softly and silently go off and do some grading.

#26 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 02:20 PM:

Kellie, maybe it's just that We Are Not Ready for that knowledge?

#27 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 03:25 PM:

[snooty voice] Hmmm. Two very excellent theories, Anne and Jeremy. I am mollified. I shall now allow the Future Beings (be they bacterial or human or alien) to continue on with their good work. [/ snooty voice]

#28 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 03:54 PM:


It's not science fiction, but you might look at Tom Stoppard's play, "Arcadia." Math professors write paens to it. The play is concerned with chaos theory, fractals, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and dynamical systems.

I recently saw it performed here in Minneapolis, and it is a truly stunning work. It has the feeling of sf, in that it pursues two related story lines, the two being about 100 years apart. I haven't read it, it may not work as well in print. On stage, it very nearly lifted my hair right off.

You might also try Stoppard's "Hapgood," which is about quantum mechanics and the observer effect, if I remember correctly.

#29 ::: Adina ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 05:31 PM:

Teresa, when you added that bit of verse by Virge, you forgot to put in a close-italics tag, so most of the rest of the page is now italicized.

#30 ::: Scott Drone-Silvers ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2003, 10:41 PM:

Stoppard - now THERE'S a great candidate for a time traveler. Watching his work gives me the distict impression that he has had some incredible "technical advisors" from the last several centuries...

#31 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2003, 01:21 AM:

I couldn't resist sneaking in here to be italicized....

Add to Mr. Ford's great suggestion of MATHENAUTS the two miscellanies edited by Clifton Fadiman, FANTASIA MATHEMATICA and THE MATHEMATICAL MAGPIE. Stories, articles, poetry, fantasies, and just plain fun. They've even been reissued as trade paperbacks within the last few years. Also, of course, FLATLAND and all its followons. And Rudy Rucker (a mathematician himself, like Vernor Vinge) has written some stories that have great math interest.

One of the odder bits of math fiction is a few chapters in SORORITY HOUSE, a work by Frederik Pohl (possibly with Kornbluth, I'm not sure) under the Jordan Park pseudonym. Bear with my spotty memory: it's been at least 10 years since I read it, and my copy's in Seattle, and it's a bloody scarce book at this point. One of the sorority girls picks up a thin little book of every esoteric math with "elementary" in the title and tries to read it. She can't get past the first paragraph at first. But she knows it's elementary, and she knows she's not stupid enough not to understand an elementary book, so she keeps trying; and over several weeks actually gets hooked on serious math and starts seeing how it works. A very nice sequence in an almost unknown book; might be appropriate to see if someone would reprint that bit. The rest of the book, while fun, is nothing special.


#32 ::: FIX THE DAMN ITALICS TAG! ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2003, 01:18 PM:

Please, please, please put an </i> tag after "meteoric" in the addendum.

#33 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2003, 05:28 PM:

I'm 500 miles from home, with none of my references at hand.

But a battered "Science Fiction Encyclopedia" [ed.Peter Nicholls, 1979] is before me, to say more about Mathematics in Science Fiction. I'm at the El Dorado County Library for a free 30
minutes of internet, in the middle of a skiing vacation at Lake Tahoe. This is one of the West's
primiere resort areas, and I've never stayed here

Back to Math: H.G. Wells' The Platner Story" [1896, 4-D rotation makes 3-D object mirror-reversed]; Robert Heinlein, "And He Built a Crooked House--" [1940, Tesseract house folds into 4-d); Arthur C. Clarke, "Wall of Darkness" [1949, a toplogical weirdness]; L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt, THE INCOMPLETE ENCHANTER [1942, mathematical logc equation is key to travel to alternate worlds]; James Blish "FYI" [1953, transfinite arithmetic]; David Duncan, "Occam's Razor" [1957, explains Calculus of Variations]; Robert Heinlein, "Misfit", [1939, math prodigy Libby]; Norman Kagan, various stories; William F. Orr, "Euclid Alone", [1975, in Orbit 16 anth., author a mathematician, too]; several books by Rudy Rucker.

Comments on loopholes in my claim dismissing "altering the past" are interesting. Truth is, we do not actually KNOW the topology of time. I stand by what I said, in the "default" consensus world of Physics. But it takes a 6-hour course to be even halfway convincing. The one definitive textbok on Time Travel in SF, other literature, math, physics, and toplogy has been republished, as a Ben Bova imprint [Original was American Physics Press]. Referenced on the anchor page in the long page I mnetioned in earlier posting. Author a SF writer turned Professor.

It is extravagently beautiful here, the snow-covered Sierra Nevadas, which we are in; the snow-laded firs and Ponderosa pines; the huge lake spread out below.

I am as happy as I've been in a long time.

Almost ashamed to admit that I'm addicted to the Web, and this blog, and my email.

Yesterday, at the ski lodge, I ran into Gwen Bell, wife of former DEC President Gordon Bell (now a Micro$oft VP). Her opening line to me, before we knew names, was "what was your first computer?"

Mine was an IBM 1130 in 1966. Gwen, FoundinG president of the Computer Mudeum, knew so many of the same pioneers that I do. She's kicking off a national competition for Best Computer Game built by a High School student. Winner gets full schlarship at Stanford. Cool idea!

Okay, back to the ski slopes, at 9,000 to over 10,000 feet abve sea level...

Bye for now...

#34 ::: Teach Yourself HTML ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2003, 05:38 PM:

closing italics

#35 ::: Saheli ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2003, 09:41 PM:

Well, that's a nice starting list: Mathenauts, Arcadia, Fantasia Mathematica and The Mathematical Magpie , Jonathan Vos Post's exhaustive list of classics, and Sorority House by Frederik Pohl. I have to say that sequence does sound intriguing, Tom. I may have to go hunting for that. I think John is right, and the usual thing is to make the mathematics a MacGuffin. The Tespies killing Galois is a nice touch. Especially if they did it by making him fall in love.

Perhaps its time to write some then. . .
Thanks all!

#36 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 04:39 AM:

Obviously, the time travellers got to Teresa too, and are now italicizing the thread in order that it Never Be Read. Errors never happen, as we all know...
(Does this work?)

#37 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 04:52 AM:

I tried to make it <i>Does this work</i>, and obviously that didn't. Crafty buggers, they saw right through my cunning plan...

#38 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 12:20 PM:

I'm beginning to wonder about the merits of hacking root on the server. Suppose one were caught. Under these circumstances, no jury would convict....

#39 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 12:48 PM:

Saheli, Bookfinder and ABEBooks each turn up a few copies all at (basically) $40. I found mine over 20 years ago, and haven't seen but one or two others, in private collections, since. You might want to check and see if a copy is available through interlibrary loan, if you can access that local to where you are. As I say, it's a few sequences within the book. Since my mother had a PhD in Math, and I almost got mine in that field (went for Zoology instead), I found it fascinating.

#40 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 12:49 PM:

Correction to previous post -- I only went for a BA, and almost got it in Math (I really should preview...). Have no PhD, don't want to imply I do.

#41 ::: Teresa, please fix the italics ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 01:25 PM:

#42 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 01:43 PM:

Sorry about that. I've been offline. I just got back from a movie marathon in New Jersey.

#43 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 02:13 PM:

Teresa, I think ROTK is the best of the three. I also think there were two moments that made me exclaim in outrage. What did you think?

#44 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 02:56 PM:

Just for the record, to "FIX THE D*MN ITALICS" and "Teach Yourself HTML" for the most part, but also to anyone else who made a big deal about this (mentioning it is not a 'big deal', harping on it is):

Hey, wow, Teresa made a mistake. I know we don't expect that from her, but she is -- I hear by rumour at least -- human. And then she was too busy to notice and fix it for a couple days. SO WHAT? DEAL WITH IT. It's just italics. A little annoying, but nothing worth being a butthead over.

She doesn't seem upset about it, but I personally found particularly the two people I actually named to be unconscionably rude. You're a guest here, partaking of a free service that granted you may contribute to, but is nonetheless hosted by someone else on their own dime and their own free time, and you know what? You have no entitlements, only privileges.

Pointing out an error politely is one thing. But acting like Teresa, instead of making a small error, was ignorant of HTML or somehow committed a horrible faux pas by forgetting a close tag... that makes you a butthead in my book.

(I actually meant to post this the other day, but got busy myself, speaking of free time sometimes interfering with weblogs.)

#45 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 03:02 PM:

A decade or so back, I saw a stylish little animated piece called (if memory serves this time) THE CLEANING LADY. Maybe it was THE CLEANING WOMAN. One of the two. Anyway, this drudge of a woman is dusting away at a statue when her mad scientist employer comes bounding into the room with his time machine, and he needs a subject. A moment later, the cleaning lady or woman is on the bridge of the Titanic. Exerting herself enough to point, she says:


She is then whisked back to the film's present. I suppose she must have changed things just enough to delay the invention of the machine, because here comes the mad scientist again, and she's off to another era, and another, and another.

Somewhere along the way, as she dusts a groove into the marble, she's sent back to a limousine driving through Dealey Plaza, where she says:

"why don't you and Jackie trade places?"

The limo drives out of our view, shots ring out, and bystanders shout, "They've shot the First Lady!"

This was the crowd pleaser. The audience at the Naro loved it. It also gave me a fantasy that comes back at odd moments of a terminally unexcited housekeeper at the door of the Dakota, saying:

"why don't you and Yoko trade places?"

#46 ::: Stephan Brun ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 04:40 PM:

Tina, Teresa: I hope my posts didn't cause offence, I tried to be humourous about it. It's just that whenever I pass by something that isn't quite right, I get this terrible urge to fix it, sorry...

#47 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 05:06 PM:

I was surprised that you say there is a color called Time Traveller Blue. I beg to differ. The color of time travel is of course, fuchsia.

#48 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 05:56 PM:

And now they're coming from the past--and lying to us!

#49 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 11:16 PM:

In which case, Godel was an agent of someone, sent to ensure that we left the path of all-encompassing mathematics (a sure path to gateway-opening equations, liable to invite in things Man was Not Meant to Have Tea With, and put us on the path to incomplete mathematics, quite useful, but lacking in this-equation-erases-reality coolness.

#50 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2003, 11:52 PM:

I still want to know why John Farrell is so astounded that I watch Buffy. (Or, as John puts it, "...Buffy???")

#51 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 04:08 AM:

Tom Whitmore: Most of the Jordan Park books are by Kornbluth, not Pohl, as far as I know. However, in the case of Sorority House: Maybe 10 years ago or so, I was at the annual SFWA cocktail party at the top of the St. Regis. I found myself at some point sitting at a table with Fred Pohl and some publishing people who shall remain nameless--people who while they knew more or less who he was, probably weren't particular fans, nor did they probably realize just who he was. By this time I'd had a few drinks. I looked over at Pohl, who seemed bored. So out of nowhere, I asked, "So, did you write Sorority House, or was it Kornbluuth. or...?" (I'd recently found a nice copy for 25a2 at a library sale.) Without batting an eyelash, Pohl answerred, "Cyril rote the first 20,000 words and then got stalled, so I finished it."
So there you have it.
Those not familiar with this book, which is out of print and hard to find except for people like me and Tom, can see the cover in Jaye Zimet's excellent book of lesbian paperback covers, Strange Sisters.

#52 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 04:10 AM:

Woops: make that "Kornbluth" and "wrote."
My keyboard sucks.

#53 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 12:18 PM:

Naah, it's just that the Holy Ghost doesn't work the graveyard shift.

#54 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2004, 02:17 PM:

I'd always heard the Parks were collaborations (except for VALERIE, which has two editions with textual differences). Ah well, just re-read the second ed of Simon Eisner's THE NAKED STORM (another pseudonym not entirely clearly either Pohl or Kornbluth, also published by Lion Books).

Another odd mathematical fantasy just read: KANDELMAN'S KRIM, by the mathematician J. L. Synge. Not a particularly good story, but the Introduction has several wonderful bits on the nature of books, some of which I've quoted elsewhere. The story itself has too much math and not enough plot. Ah well. If you're collecting mathematical fantasies, though, it's an essential work (like Mack Reynolds' CASE OF THE LITTLE GREEN MEN is essential for those collecting novels set at SF conventions).

#55 ::: Stan Isaacs ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2004, 08:41 PM:

I'm just browsing (looking at Stomachion references), and noticed the mathematical science fiction question. I suggest the web site:

which has lots of mathematical fiction references.

#56 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 02:16 PM:

If we can broaden "mathematical SF" to include "mathematical fantasy", add Margaret Ball's Mathemagics to the list -- and the associated short stories that appeared in a couple of the Chicks in Chain Mail anthologies.

#57 ::: Bill Blum finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 05, 2004, 07:02 PM:

Gah. Least it's not porn, this time.

( Unless you're a Mac Zealot, then this doesn't even qualify as good Mac porn. )

#58 ::: Harry Connolly finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 07:25 AM:


#59 ::: Syd sees spam-like material ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 12:52 PM:

At #59. Might be a valid comment, but seems a to me.

#60 ::: Tom Whitmore sees intelligent spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 12:53 PM:

Intelligent, but irrelevant.

#61 ::: Syd sees spam-like material ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2011, 12:54 PM:

Tom Whitmore @ 61: jinx! :)

#62 ::: GlendaP sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2011, 04:08 AM:


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