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The Time Ships (1995)
Stephen Baxter
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

This sequel to H.G. Wells' classic "The Time Machine" updates the story with some quantum mechanics and general relativity that were not available to Wells in 1895.

Our narrator returns to the distant future, expecting to find the peaceful Eloi and beastly Morlocks that he saw the first time he went. However, he finds that there are no longer any Eloi, and the Morlocks are instead an intellectual race. Nobogipfel, Morlock who ends up going with our hero back to the past, helps him understand the fact that the narrator's own time-travels caused these changes, and teaches him about the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics.

Like the original novel, there is some discussion of higher-dimensional geometry. But, that is not the primary reason that I am considering Baxter's sequel to be a work of "mathematical fiction". Early in the book, Nebogipfel also tells the narrator about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems:

(quoted from The Time Ships)

He shook his head, in another gesture he had acquired from me. "That is not possible. A man of your own time Kurt Gödel--was the first to demonstrate that."


"Kurt Gödel: a mathematician who was born some ten years after your departure in time."

This Gödel--I was astonished to learn, as Nebogipfel again displayed his deep study of my age-would, in the 1930s, demonstrate that mathematics can never be finished off; instead its logical systems must forever be enriched by incorporating the truth or falsehood of new axioms.

"It makes my head ache to think about it!-I can imagine the reception this poor Gödel got when he brought this news to the world. Why, my old algebra teacher would have thrown him out of the room."

Nebogipfel said, "Gödel showed that our quest, to acquire knowledge and understanding, can never be completed."

Personally, I found it a bit hard to believe that a Morlock would know so much about Kurt Gödel after so many years had passed. Then, coincidentally, they just happen to meet Kurt Gödel.

In the 1930's universe where they find themselves, England and Germany are war. But, it is not World War II as we know it. Instead, it is a war involving time-machines. Two copies of the narrator from Wells' book (a young one and an older one) and Nebogipfel are brought there by the British government and they find that Gödel is also there, working on the theory of time travel.

In fact, as the author surely knows, Gödel did do some work on theoretical aspects of time (though not exactly "time travel".) As a gift to his good friend Albert Einstein, he found a solution to the equations of general relativity which included closed time-like curves. This means that general relativity allows for causal loops (such as a people being their own grandparents).

And, there are other little "Easter Eggs" that can be noticed by readers who know a lot about Gödel: such as his concern about the loopholes left in the constitution of the United States of America and his explanation of why he is in London rather than Princeton.

Gödel himself only appears as a character for a few short chapters. However, the idea of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems returns at the end of the book as part of a "gosh-wow" explanation of the multiverse:

(quoted from The Time Ships)

"But it is not like that. The totality of the Constructors' mental universe is too big."


"These structures are analogous to the scientific theories of your own day constantly under stress, from new discoveries and the insights of new thinkers. The world of understanding does not stay still, you see ...

"And besides, remember your friend Kurt Gödel, who taught us that no body of knowledge can be codified and made complete.

"The Information Sea is unstable. The hypotheses and intentions which emerge from it are complex and multi-faceted; there is rarely complete unanimity among the Constructors about any point. It is like a continuing, emerging debate; and within that debate, factions may emerge: groupings of quasi-individuals, coalescing around some scheme..."

Contributed by Allan Goldberg

I read “Time Ships” a while ago and found it to be overly verbose and the ultimate (i.e. impossible) resolution to the multiple time lines (as in all time travel stories) to be forced.

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Works Similar to The Time Ships
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Time Machine by Herbert George Wells
  2. The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke / Stephen Baxter
  3. Gödel's Sunflowers by Stephen Baxter
  4. Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter
  5. Planck Zero by Stephen Baxter
  6. The Eighth Room by Stephen Baxter
  7. Shell by Stephen Baxter
  8. The Logic Pool by Stephen Baxter
  9. Timescape by Gregory Benford
  10. The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Ratings for The Time Ships:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifHigher/Lower Dimensions, Time Travel, Kurt Gödel,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Mathematical Physics,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)