Sunday, September 17, 2017

Another one bites the dust

A couple of days ago I finished A Pocketful of Stars, a fantasy novel - I guess I could call it urban fantasy, since it's set in present-day Austin. But "urban fantasy" seems to imply a noir atmosphere, mystery, supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves - none of which are present in Stars. It's got a talking turtle head with a snakebot body (told you I was going to use that snakebot somewhere!) and evil grackles. But no vampires, zombies, werewolves, elves, etc., etc. Just a handful of young mathematicians who have discovered a way to 'nudge' reality by visualizing certain topological constructs and theorems. None of which, I promise, you need to understand to follow the book!

This theme does have the advantage of allowing me to shut up various people (brothers-in-law, doctors, statisticians) who consider themselves intellectually superior to a mere writer. When they ask, "What's this one about?" I say truthfully, "It's a fantasy novel about a system of magic based on topology."

After they've said, "Uh," and before they can betray that they don't know the difference between topology and topography, I add helpfully, "Topology is the study of non-metric properties of surfaces."

It's cheap entertainment, and I'm not going to lean on the flimsy mathematical substructure when pitching the book to potential readers. But I'm thinking that it might inspire some interesting covers. The picture at the head of this blog? Partial side view of a torus, which is the shape that doughnuts and coffee cups typify to a topologist. There are many more such images. I can remember my father working for hours with colored pencils and drawing tools to create the necessary illustrations for a paper; this was back when computers were the size of a city block and didn't do much that was useful to normal people. All right, maybe I'm stretching the definition of "normal" here to include topologists, but you know what I mean.

Would you buy a book with this torus on the cover?


  1. That photo IS quite beautiful and intriguing, and yes, I just might buy the book with that extra nudge of a cover.

    And all those terms you're tossing about, well, I don't feel I know much about any of them so am glad I don't need to in order to enjoy the story. Especially appreciate the omission of vampires, werewolves and zombies. :-)

    1. Which terms are you thinking of? "Torus?" or "Normal?" I don't know much about normal myself.

      It's been half a century since I had my hands on actual math, so don't worry, this is definitely NOT a book about topology. Just think of it as magic.


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