|We shall challenge the widely-held assumption that readers and writers of science fiction feel more at home with physical than with mathematical sciences. In fact, a substantial body of novels and stories depends on mathematical ideas. Is the portrayal of mathematics in science fiction accurate or
confused, legitimate speculation or mere technobabble? Is mathematics
simply a way of mystifying, even intimidating readers or can
understanding the underlying mathematics truly contribute to the total
experience of reading a story? This course will present both the
mathematics and the literary concepts necessary for an informed reading
of the chosen texts. Although these texts will mostly be works of fiction,
we shall also discuss some critical theory, with reference to current
debates about post-modern consciousness, cultural politics, narrative
structure, and the nature of artistic representation. Among the mathematical authors we sharll read are Edwin Abbott, Martin Gardner, Douglas Hofstadter, Stanislaw Lem, Ernst Mach, Blaise Pascal and Rudy Rucker; among the authors of novels or short stories, Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Robert Heinlein, Ursula Le Guin, Larry Niven, Rudy Rucker, and Kim
Stanley Robinson; among writers on the theory and practice of science
fiction, Samuel Delany, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and Darko Suvin.
Course requirements will include regular problem sets, a critical essay, and one or more drafts of a story.
In a typical week, you will come to lectures on Monday (Mathematics) and Wednesday (Science Fiction) and take part in a discussion on Friday. Note the variations in weeks One, Five, Six, and Ten, and the guest appearance by Professor Banchoff on April 6.
You will need to buy the following from Wheelock Books: Flatland (Abbott), Beyond the Third Dimension (Banchoff), Geometry, Relativity, and the Fourth Dimension (Rucker), and the course reader, which has been specially compiled for Coco 18 and cannot be reproduced. The reader includes the articles and stories listed in the syllabus and a complete copy of Hess's Four Dimensional Geometry. You should do all the reading for a particular week in time for the first lecture.