Christopher Anvil: Cantor’s War

I’ve been reading Baen’s collections of Christopher Anvil’s classic sf stories. In general, I’ve found them excellent; I thoroughly enjoyed the Free Library book Interstellar Patrol; and I’ve enjoyed all the stories of Interstellar Patrol II: The Federation of Humanity that I’ve read so far – with the exception of one.

I agree completely with Alex Kasman of MathFiction: In my opinion, this story is slanderous and the author should be ashamed. I have very little to add to his review, and I won’t repeat his points here. I recommend reading the whole of Kasman’s review.

On my first reading I totally missed that Dr. Phipps had been identified as a mathematician; I couldn’t believe my eyes when I went back and checked. A mathematician of the future, who is that ignorant of elemental set theory? The stuff is hammered down the throat of every mathematics freshman everywhere. It might be possible to graduate with that sort of ignorance, and I might accept it from a scientist who is not a mathematician, but to get a maths doctorate? No way.

Fine, so we suspend disbelief on that point. The good Doctor is a professional imbecile. When he uses his faulty understanding of Cantor’s Theorem to suggest a plan of attack against the bad guys, I expected it to fail, naturally. I expected the bad guys to somehow diagonalize themselves additional warships, and so prove that their number is actually uncountable, when the good guys have just a countably infinite set of ships. But did we get this? No.

Go read Kasman’s review, and the Anvil reissues. But by heavens, if you are educated in higher maths, skip Cantor’s War.

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