Class this morning focused on Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life" and on the first half of Ursula K. LeGuin's novel The Dispossessed. What these two have in common is an alien physics that substitutes simultaneity for sequency. In other words, instead of seeing the world as a series of cause-and-effect phenomena, simultaneity sees everything that ever happened as already present, and time as a single, non-divisible entity. Both story and novel turn on this concept.
It's not, however, an easy concept to get across to a roomful of non-science majors (including the teacher), in a language not their own. We had pictures on the board. We had analogies. We had much hand-waving. The index of refraction was dragged in, as was the reversibility of Einsteinian equations. I think the students did very well, from what I could tell from their responses. One asked if Ted Chiang had borrowed these ideas about time from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. I said I had no idea. We then tackled anarchy as a social system, in the version LeGuin has invented for Anarres. It was an intense class, and I'll be interested to see how many return for next week -- when things do in fact get easier.
Next came a lunch with representatives from Holtzbrinck, which owns (among a lot of other things) Tor, my main publisher. The two women came by train from Berlin in order to arrange my public presentations, one in Leipzig and one in Berlin. Lunch was fun. Christina, one of the Holtzbrinck PR people, leaves in a few days for a vacation in California. She and a friend are driving from San Francisco to San Diego, along the Pacific coast. Travelers eastward, travelers west. But she will get the better weather.