Reading Mathematicians in Love was a foray into new territory for me. I have never read anything remotely approaching science fiction, with the exception of the odd H.G. Wells short story as part of my undergraduate studies. I decided that starting with one of America’s best was probably the smartest way of approaching the genre, but I’m not convinced it was the right thing to do.
Rudy Rucker’s Mathematicians in Love is about a love triangle between two math researchers, Paul and Bela, and the object of their affections, a Rhetoric major named Alma. Alma’s affections sway easily between the two, soon driving a wedge. Bela is the primary narrator and does seem rather badly treated by Paul and Alma. However, some of the tricks Bela pulls to try to secure Alma’s attention dampens any sympathy for him.
Hence, the majority of the narrative revolves around three characters who are not particularly likeable. The interest comes from Paul and Bela’s attempts to play with time to alter past and future events. However, I struggled with this as a non-SF reader. I felt that there were genre-specific literary devices that I did not understand, leaving me in places a little lost.
That aside, Rucker does write very well. His comic touch is deft, and he has a particular genius for writing conversation. He is an oft-published, prize-winning author, and the consequent maturity is evident throughout. He is adept at pulling together a multitude of creations, from his geeky mathematicians, a mad professor, surf chicks, musicians, drug addicts… to monsters. Rucker’s portfolio of previously published work is all thickly set within the SF genre. Therefore, his confident style comes from depth of genre, rather than breadth of experience. Rucker clearly writes for the SF audience, with little consideration for the rest.
As a non-SF reader, my biggest complaint is with Rucker’s inconsistent characterization. Some, such as Bela and Paul’s mad professor Roland Haut, are solidly drawn and vibrant. However, many of the cast of supporting characters are sketchily written, 2D wisps at best. The purpose appears to be to prevent attention being deflected from the cutting-edge math being employed to alter reality.
This is a novel for die-hard SF fans. It is an excellent novel of its type, with a strong, well-driven plot and consistent, precise narrative. However, I can’t help feeling disappointed that such a renowned author of SF is either unwilling or unable to make the genre and his writing more accessible to the uninitiated.