BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two mathematicians devise a way to predict the future and hop to parallel worlds in hopes of wooing the same girl and depose a tyrannical president.
PROS: Cool premise; clear language allows Inner Geek to enjoy advanced math concepts.
CONS: The promise of alternate-realities doesn’t come to fruition until the second half of the book and even then it’s downplayed in favor of political satire; Surfer-Dude dialogue can become annoying.
BOTTOM LINE: A mediocre reading experience.
The cover-flap blurb of Rudy Rucker’s Mathematicians in Love promises two smart guys vying for the same girl as they “fight it out by altering reality”. Given this intriguing many-worlds premise, one might expect a series of slightly altered realities in some dueling contest of Puppet Masters. I know I did. Perhaps this false expectation is why I found the book less than fulfilling.
The narrator and main character of Mathematicians in Love is Bela Kis, a carefree surfer-dude who happens to dabble in advanced mathematics. With his slightly-smarter roommate, Paul Bridge, he develops a mathematical formula for predicting the future. Their mathematical proof leads to the creation of a “GoBrane” device (later called a “GoBubble”) that allows one to travel to parallel worlds and, in effect, change the future as well as predict it. Bela and Paul (the cover blurb promises) use the technology to alter reality so that each winds up with Alma, the girl they both like. Meanwhile, Bela’s and Paul’s highly strung math advisor, Roland Haut, begins to see reflections of cone shell aliens that do not appear in reality. These aliens – mathematicians themselves – exist in another dimension with a god-like alien jellyfish that is responsible for creating our own reality and many others.
This is certainly a serviceable setting for a series of parallel world adventures where Alma is the treasure sought by reality shapers Bela and Paul. Unfortunately for those expectations, the promise of alternate-realities doesn’t even come into play until the second half of the book. This was a big drawback. Until then, the story merely follows the ups and downs of their lives: Bela ticks off Haut; Bela’s life becomes a web-based reality show; Paul gets a job with a corporate techie-turned-politico named Van Veeter; Bela plays in a rock band, etc. There are only taunting hints at the ability to change reality with lamentations of “if only…”, “in another world…” and the like. When Bela and Paul finally do manage to travel to another dimension (via the ultra-cool, “neutral” fractal world called La Hampa), they are more concerned with deposing the predicted tyrannical leadership of Joe Doakes, the Heritagist leader of the U.S. OK, so it has a satirical take on current events – Heritagists are the Republicans and the Common Ground party represents the Democrats – that’s fine as far it goes. My personal tastes usually see politics as deadweight in fiction and this is a good example of that. The political satire comes at the expense of sf entertainment. Furthermore, any hopes a reader had of becoming involved in the Bela/Paul/Alma love triangle never quite gels because Alma is so damn fickle. She hops between Bela and Paul way too often, seemingly and shallowly motivated by the money and success of a potential lover. One wonders what they see in her besides the sex.
As the book progresses Bela and Paul become more involved with Heritagist Van Veeter who strong arms the mathematicians for control over the reality-changing technology. Veeter becomes aware of Bela and Paul through a side story concerning video blogging (vlogging). The vlogging aspect is a cool glimpse into a probable future; imagine a time when easily accessible ring-cams stream live video to the web making anyone the star of their own reality show. (Holy YouTube, Batman!) Unfortunately for the book these vlogging elements added little to the story besides that coolness factor. I’m reminded of Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town in which the WiFi storyline felt somewhat disconnected from the main thrust of the book.
Lest this sound like a hate-fest, I should note that there are some redeemable qualities here. Mathematicians in Love succeeds in being light sf with an air of fun, mainly due to its laid back, Surfer-Dude writing style. It is, however, something of a double edge sword. At first encounter, it makes the story inviting in a “join the party” kind of way. This is the kind of book you read kicking back in a hammock within arm’s reach of some drink that sports a tiny umbrella. Bela and Paul seem to have promising futures ahead of them, but that’s not something they take too seriously; they are geeky but fun. However, that inviting, carefree feeling is dulled by the dialogue’s prolific inclusion of phrases like “gnarly” and referring to people as “dog”. Otherwise, the writing style is quickly ingested and Rucker uses clear language, even when talking about advanced mathematical concepts which are beyond firm comprehension yet fun for the Inside Geek.
To be fair to the book, I did read it in small increments, something that I think does have an effect on continuity and enjoyment. And the parallel world-hopping promise of the cover misled me, so my expectations were aimed differently. Yet if I must convey my honest reading experience, I would say it was firmly planted in the mediocre range.