I love reading stories about the impossible, and science fiction is full of them. Faster than light travel is, as far as we currently know, an impossibility, but I don’t mind reading stories that use faster than light travel in either an essential or an inessential way. There are some spectacularly good ones, and we all have our own personal lists of our favourites.
Magic, ghosts, all things that as far as we understand the rules of the universe are impossible, and yet that doesn’t matter. We know our understanding of the rules of the universe is incomplete, but it is still something of a stretch to create a universe of magic.
As a mathematician in my day job, I’m used to dealing with impossible things. Encountering them, that is, but not doing them. Because doing impossible things is, well, impossible. But there are things that we know to be impossible, such as squaring a circle or trisecting an angle, and as in all things, the rules of the game matter. But that’s a different story.
So why do I love reading stories about impossible things like faster than light travel, universal translators, magic and all of the other standard tropes that we work with. I love reading them because I love watching what their authors do in creating them. I love the flights of fancy and deep dives into the pools of imagination that are the short stories, novellas and novels I love to read.
As much as I love reading the impossible, I’ll admit that I have great difficulty writing the impossible. Part of this difficulty is one of imagination. I’ve read a lot of very, very good stories about impossible things, and for me, this raises the hurdle of the impossible I can imagine. Fortunately, there is infinite room in the realm of the impossible, and so the impossible becomes an infinite playground.
And so this is my challenge, to find something interesting in this infinite realm of the impossible. And not just interesting to me. Interesting to everyone who might read my explorations of this infinite realm.
Jim Anderson (on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.