This story deals with a lot of topics that are important to me, including isolation, detachment, and love of nature. It is also about the utility of mathematics. You may note that the question given—how much blood the brother loses—is simultaneously vitally important and of no relevance whatsoever. It is vitally important because this quantity dictates whether he lives or dies, but is of no relevance because he simply will either live or die, whether you calculate it or not. Much of the day-to-day work of mathematicians is like this. Some of my recent work could lead to breakthroughs in agriculture that would lead to vastly reduced needs for pesticides and herbicides—provided that the model works, and that the political will exists to implement it. Is that useful? Are contrived exam questions about ideal fluids flowing through perfectly cylindrical tubes useful? Mathematics is so detached from reality that it can be difficult to tell.
Why do you write?
I find the process of writing therapeutic. It brings to the surface things that I otherwise cannot quite grasp or articulate. I also value it as a means of communication—writing is about as close as you can get to projecting your own thoughts, beliefs, and experiences directly into another person’s mind. I value reading for the same reason.
What do you think about your own writing?
Looking back on my previous works, I find them slightly unnerving. They always seem to cut deeper than I had anticipated, and to say more about myself than I had intended to say.
What is your single favourite work of fiction?
As a rule, I don’t choose favourites. However, in general I prefer non-Western literature, as I find it deals with especially interesting themes and perspectives. For instance, Japanese literature, particularly from the Meiji era, often deals with themes of nostalgia and loss of cultural identity; 19th century Russian literature often deals with grand scale social changes; and literature from countries on the losing side often offer very different perspectives of the First and Second World Wars.
Though I wouldn’t necessarily call them favourites, I have found many of the short stories by Motojirō Kajii especially touching, and would highly recommend them.
One piece of advice?
Be sure to perform dimensional analysis to check your answer to part (c); as a volume, it should, of course, have dimensions of length cubed.
Ariadne Thompson is a twenty-three year old trans woman living in Norwich. She is currently pursuing a PhD in mathematical modelling of population genetics. When not doing mathematics, she enjoys reading, writing, and chasing butterflies.