Friday, 28 July 2017


Science fiction refers to scientists, both fictional, like James Blish's Haertel, and real, like Einstein (see image), Dirac, Mach, Milne and Dingle (see here). A "Mach drive" is one of Poul Anderson's several FTL drives. Rereading HG Wells' The Time Machine (London, 1973), we find and take for granted this topical reference:

"'...some philosophical people have been asking why three dimensions particularly - why not another direction at right angles to the other three? - and have even tried to construct a Four-Dimensional geometry. Professor Simon Newcomb was expounding this to the New York Mathematical Society only a month or so ago.'" (Chapter 1, p. 9)

We accept Newcomb as we accept every other period reference in The Time Machine. The text is rich in such references, placing this novel firmly in its own period before its protagonist launches himself "'...into futurity.'" (Chapter 4, p. 25) Now, however, it is an easy matter to google the pre-Einstein Newcomb, who even turns out to have written a science fiction novel!

Anderson and Blish cite Einstein etc when rationalizing their FTL drives. Now Newcomb, expounding four dimensional space, joins this august company. It is quite a thing to be named in The Time Machine.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    And Poul Anderson had the SPIRITS of mathematicians like Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky and Janos Bolyai as characters in OPERATION CHAOS. But I never particularly noticed Simon Newcomb in THE TIME MACHINE. Darn!


  2. Paul and Sean:
    H.P. Lovecraft's novella "At the Mountains of Madness" includes two references by the narrator to Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. The second passage, once the horror of the ancient city is revealed, says:

    "I recalled how [the sinister mountain range's] northerly end must come near the coast at Queen Mary Land, where even at that moment Sir Douglas Mawson’s expedition was doubtless working less than a thousand miles away; and hoped that no evil fate would give Sir Douglas and his men a glimpse of what might lie beyond the protecting coastal range."

    If Sir Douglas DID see something eldritch, he concealed it, no doubt feeling the world was not yet ready.... [*Twilight Zone* music]

    1. Kaor, DAVID!

      I will look up Sir Douglas when I have more time! And I will see if I have Lovecraft's "At The Mountains Of Madness" somewhere among my books.