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Emmy's Time (2018)
Anthony Bonato

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

The main story-line is quite reminiscent of the pulp era, with its aw-shucks use of "recently discovered temporal fields" and "earth is about to be destroyed unless one brilliant mathematician can solve it all". The plot, such as it is, is simply a scaffolding to showcase some rich and poignant emotions felt by Emmy Noether, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, and one who was treated as an equal by Hilbert and Einstein, her fellow countrymen. Noether had faced significant discrimination, as most women of her time did, in her professional life. The famous quote by Hilbert captured this prevailing zeitgeist, when he had to chastise his university colleagues from the Philosophy department (who opposed Noether's salaryless appointment to Gottingen University) with an acerbic remark, "I do not see that the sex of a candidate is an argument against her admission as a teaching assistant. After all, we are a university and not a bathing establishment." . Those travails must have been particularly difficult for someone as gifted as Noether... to be treated so cavalierly by far lesser male-chauvinist minds. The story appears to be an attempt to remedy this and give the fictional Emmy Noether a further shot at mathematical immortality on a level playing field (not that she needed it).

So in the story, Dr. Dakota Tran of the 22nd century invents a temporal field which also triggers formation of "timeholes" (the author does not make this causal connection but it must be so else you have an unbelievable coincidence problem in the narrative - a timehole menacing the solar system within 10 years of the discovery of temporal fields by humans...). A timehole out in the Oort cloud will destroy the sun in a year unless someone brilliant can help with new equations *eye roll*. So they pull Emmy Noether out of the past. As the fan-girl, says,

(quoted from Emmy's Time)

"‘We needed the greatest mathematical mind available to us from the last two hundred years. That time period is how far back we could go with our limited understanding of temporal fields.’’. ‘But surely you would have brought back Herr Einstein or Hilbert or Weyl.’’. Dakota smiled. ‘‘I said the greatest mind.’’ Emmy blushed like a schoolgirl. [...] ."We chose you because of your special gifts. Your incredible mathematical intuition leading to breakthroughs in ring theory and in conservation laws in physics."

Thus we have Emmy Noether in the 22nd century, learning from the "mathematical cloud" at super-fast pace with the aid of neural implants so that she can help save Earth ("‘Without your assistance, the sun will be extinguished and the Earth and human race will vanish like a firefly dying out on a summer’s night.")

While the story is full of timeholes, some of the thoughts which Emmy has and a couple of other expressions are worth noting, for they highlight the cause of female mathematicians and role models, and the struggles they continue to face. e.g.:

(quoted from Emmy's Time)

‘‘Yes! I study algebra like you did. I mean do. Since they settled Hilbert’s fifteenth and sixteenth problems a decade ago, I’m working on temporal algebra inspired by a few of your works."

(quoted from Emmy's Time)

"I will never forgive them for what the Nazis did to me and to Germany. The University of Gottingen will never be the same without the others and me. At least I am free of those idiots, who could not appreciate my mathematics because of what doesn’t dangle between my legs. And free of the cowards who can’t appreciate a Jew like me being better at mathematics than them."

(quoted from Emmy's Time)

"Emmy lived at home during her studies, and as a woman would never have been allowed to live in the dorms at Gottingen. But she dreamed it would be like this, this tiny place that Ophelia studied in, slept in and made home."

(quoted from Emmy's Time)

"A woman in charge of an academic department? I must truly be in the 22nd century!"

(quoted from Emmy's Time)

"Women are now equal to men in mathematics and science and in the world. How lovely. I outlived the fascists, and their damned Reich is only a forgotten memory! Hah! I win. Here, now, I can make a difference. And preserve their memory by preserving the world itself. Not bad for someone who had to work so hard for tenure in Gottingen because she was a woman."

The story does have one more nice touch, as it notes that Emmy Noether has to be told about the Fields Medal, something which was instituted a year after she died in 1935...

Published as: Bonato, A. Emmy’s Time. Math Intelligencer 40, 38–44 (2018).

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Works Similar to Emmy's Time
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Oracle by Greg Egan
  2. Tangents by Greg Bear
  3. Conceiving Ada by Lynn Hershman-Leeson
  4. The Fairytale of the Completely Symmetrical Butterfly by Dietmar Dath
  5. Emmy Noether: The Mother of Modern Algebra by Margaret B.W. Tent
  6. The Pythagoras Problem by Trevor Baxendale
  7. The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree by Michael Swanwick
  8. The Simplest Equation by Nicky Drayden
  9. The Mandelbrot Bet by Dirk Strasser
  10. I’ll Follow The Sun by Paul Di Filippo
Ratings for Emmy's Time:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifReal Mathematicians, Female Mathematicians, Time Travel, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Fictional Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)