The Newtonian Legacy

Instead of doing the work I had planned, I spent much of today having a very enjoyable time reading the mystery novel The Newtonian Legacy by particle theorist Nick Evans. A copy is available at his web-site here, and there’s a FAQ about the book here (I pretty much agree with his LHC predictions).

The book is well-done, very entertaining, and a good read that keeps you wanting to know what will happen next. It includes lots of popular-level explanations about particle physics and the ideas particle theorists are studying these days, so it might be an excellent way to introduce someone to these ideas. It is set at a fictional theoretical physics research institute in England, and many of the characters are particle theorists of one stripe or another (string theorists, phenomenologists, lattice gauge theorists).

The novel includes quite a few amusing portrayals of characters embodying the current sociology of particle theory: a postdoc trying to decide whether to write into the Rumor Mill to tell them he is on a short list at a place he’d rather not go to in hopes of getting other places to offer him a job, a lattice gauge theorist who stalks out of a string theorist’s talk in disgust, postdocs comparing the string theory landscape to religion, a self-satisfied American physicist from the West Coast convinced that string theory has the answers to the ultimate questions of science, and quite a few others.

The main character, Carl Vespers, is a particle theorist who, besides getting involved in the investigation of a mysterious death and having people trying to kill him, has to contend with more than one attractive woman throwing themselves at him, tempting him away from his long-distance girlfriend. All in all, a highly accurate portrayal of the life of a typical particle theorist. Highly recommended.

Last Updated on

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Newtonian Legacy

  1. Eric Baum says:

    Hi Peter,
    Rudy Rucker’s Mathematicians in Love is an amusing sci-fi set around the academic world.

  2. s k san says:

    “has to contend with more than one attractive woman throwing themselves at him, tempting him away from his long-distance girlfriend. All in all, a highly accurate portrayal of the life of a typical particle theorist.”

    I just love your sarcastic sense of humour

  3. Pingback: Infinite Reflections » Blog Archive » Return to Strings

  4. I agree with the Rudy Rucker novel recommendation. His PhD, by the way, was in Mathematical Logic.

    Going through old emails, I found that I’d made a wry commentary on TV popularization of String Theory, and the human side of the academic world, as follows:

    BLACK HOLE BIRTHDAY
    ——————-
    by Jonathan Vos Post
    copyright (c) 2003 by Emerald City Publishing
    ——————-

    At midnight, you turned 50,
    alone, in your underwear,
    eating a bowl of Cheerios
    and wondering — where did all your friends go?

    What happened to that commune
    with the famous scientists
    who liked to keep you around
    to remind themselves how smart they all were?

    What if you had taken her up,
    that reactor engineer
    from the 747
    who propositioned you, mid-funeral?

    The years blurred past you, passing
    like the billboards high above
    Koreatown — ideograms
    you can’t understand, don’t remember.

    Palm trees blaze, torches roaring,
    dropping Kentucky Fried rats
    into the scummy hot tub,
    where you once played underwater Scrabble.

    All your extra dimensions
    are compactified, rolled up
    too tight to be detected.
    In String Theory, your strings are out of tune.

    They all ran away from you,
    galaxies of hangers-on,
    accretion disks of neighbors.
    What remained imploded to a black hole.

    The light of your former world
    drools down the gravity well
    and, even if you got it,
    you can’t escape the event horizon.

    ——————–
    1200-1230
    7 Nov 2003
    ——————–

    That’s my complex emotional response
    to the NOVA series on String Theory, combined with an interview of Art Garfunkel in Modern Maturity magazine. Poetry, and most art in general, attempts to reflect the complexity of the real world…

    — Professor Jonathan Vos Post

  5. r hofmann says:

    Congratulations to Nick Evans. I had an enjoyable weekend reading his book. The book is manifestation of his talent to use very subtle terms and intelligently arranged combinations thereof to bring his convictions across. The entertainment frame is professional novel writing.

    I like Dr Evan’s decision to make his brainchild freely available.

  6. Thanks, Peter — I read Newtonian Legacy over the weekend, and it was superb! But for the accurate discussions of electroweak symmetry breaking, one would think Evans turns out potboilers for a living. Unlike many academic novelists, he actually knows how to develop interesting characters and (especially) keep a plot moving. I hope the fact that the novel is free won’t deter people from reading it.

    The similarities between the Phi and PI (Perimeter Institute) are a bit too striking to be dismissed as coincidental.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Scott,

    So the financial backer of PI and his wife are just like their analogs in the Evans book, and live next door to the Institute? Wow….

  8. anon. says:

    Peter is suddenly finding that vacation to Waterloo more appealing 😉

  9. So the financial backer of PI and his wife are just like their analogs in the Evans book, and live next door to the Institute? Wow….

    Mike Lazaridis does live right here in Waterloo (his company shares a parking lot with the Institute for Quantum Computing), and comes to some of our events to give speeches about how amazing we are. Admittedly, I don’t think he’s involved with any “Historical Society,” and I’ve never met his wife.

  10. Cynthia says:

    Hi Peter!

    Come to think of it, we, as avid consumers of pop-physics, oughta just throw out all those cheesy authors from the lesser sciences–including from the humanities, of course–that have this incredibly annoying tendency to write about physics with utter recklessness, not to mention with sheer listlessness.

    After all, it’s becoming increasingly clear that physics is blessed with a whole host of brilliant writers which–believe it or not–just so happen to be active workers (including players, of course;)) in the field.

    Needless to say, thanks for sharing this story written by a genuine fellow in the field. In fact, I’ve gotta confess, what Nick Evans has put together truly makes a most enjoyable read!

    Thanks again!
    Cynthia

Comments are closed.