In my last post, built for book reviewers, I posted the set of literary questions that exist directly after the conclusion of the story in both the kindle and physical formats. Question seven of these is as follows, for which I will attempt a brief answer:
The author, in various places inside the novel, offers mathematically detailed solutions to simple, logistical problems, which showcase the creative spirit of an entrepreneur and applied scientist; and the manner in which such a person would approach puzzles owning both inherent knowns and unknowns. Many days research were spent so that not only sound physics and chemistry prevailed throughout the story, but the engineering and material solutions were true to what was available in 1820 (albeit to a son of one of the wealthiest men in England, who happened to have his hand squarely on the modern industrial operations of the time). Why did the author risk stifling the flow of the novel with technical details that could be construed as excessive, or improper for popular entertainment and the casual reader?
There are a few places, indeed, where Mr. Winter walks the reader by the hand through the details of calculations he has made concerning his experiments, the first one, I believe, involving how to water two 1/2-acre fields with a solution of carbonate of ammonia so that enough of the fertilizer is deployed at the correct concentration, but further, that the field is not overly drenched, especially during the months of heavier precipitation; the second, being where he affords logistical and dimensional analysis driven solutions to moving marl, lime, and gypsum from their quarries to their sights of application; and thirdly, towards the end of the novel where he estimates his grain yields through sample based extrapolation.
The function of these sections, which would surely be dissected by a professional editor, is five fold:
Firstly I’m recreating real problems that would have existed during this era, and finding real solutions to them. Even though I’m but an armchair historian, I believe there is historical merit in doing so, especially considering that a true historian may not have the mathematical skills or abstract problem solving ability to provide a detailed account of such by way of recreation. When Mr. Winter informs his audience, regarding the movement of marl from the quarry to the field, that, ‘Each cart [they’ve] observed is drawn by one draft horse of approximately eighteen hundred pounds, and on account of the hills, we wished that the creatures not pull more than their weight,’ the reader may comfortably accept that I did the research on how much a horse weighed, how much it could pull up a moderate hill, the like to those characteristic of the Cotswold countryside, and how much a tumbril cart would have weighed, &c. Again I will reemphasize that I did my level best in recreating calculations that would have been accomplished in 1820 to garner the feats my characters thusly performed in the novel.
Secondly I want the audience to realize the cold hard reality of cold hard calculations. I’m weary of those contemporary propagandists that would have us believe that scientists are ‘fudging numbers’ to conform to a liberal agenda; the like to the cooked books coal baron and billionaire Donald Blankenship of WV created to fool safety inspectors into thinking he wasn’t out to destroy his gentlemen miners for the sake of a few extra cents in earnings per share of common stock. There’s no magic; no feelings; no mark-to-fantasy home values; just plain, simple Euclidean inspired adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. This novel is about science advocacy; here is partly the essence of science and engineering, boiled down to some rudimentary calculations.
Thirdly this novel was intended partly for the readership of those scientists fed up with the right wing think tanks’ propaganda that they are up to no good for the sake of money, that global warming is ‘the greatest hoax played on the American people’, &c. I fancy a particular reader may try to recreate my calculations on the back of an envelope for their own amusement.
Further, this is my hobby. The novel exists mostly for my own amusement, and is indeed not an instrument to sell a million copies to the teenage masses for the sake of wealth creation. In fact there is some diversion from the thought of an editor, all in an uproar, over Mr. Winter’s long winded instructions inside the mundane subject of farming.
And lastly, the book is a reaction to a novel, contemporary phenomenon which marks the most significant crossroads in human history – the point where we either listen to our scientists and engineers and prosper, or we destroy ourselves needlessly for the greed of a small subset of wealthy humans, cohabiting among us. Here, at least in my novel, the reader is obliged to listen to the scientist, understand in detail he is not a fraud, and reinforce their acceptance of the scientific method. What an odd time we live in, drowning in technology that has improved our condition, but where it is politically fashionable to deny the method of thinking that led us to such.