My Top Ten Scientists – Tony Ballantyne

SF author and mathematician Tony Ballantyne
cites the scientists born in the 20th century that have inspired him.


I studied maths so I'm going to start with two mathematicians: Kurt Gödel, not so much for the incompleteness theorem as for Gödel numbering.

Grigori Perelman for solving the Poincaré conjecture and then turning down the reward money.

I studied both of these at university. I never supposed the Poincaré conjecture would be solved in my lifetime. I don't think you can be an SF writer if you don't enjoy being proven wrong every now and then...

As I spend a lot of time coding, I chose the two computer scientists who influenced the way I write quite simply by inventing the languages I mostly write in... Dennis Ritchie inventor of C; James Gosling inventor of Java, Java in particular, as it is the language I'm most familiar with. It strikes me that a well thought out set of class libraries is literature approached from another direction. Or at least, it will be one day.

Two more mathematicians: Penrose and Turing.  Roger Penrose for lots of reasons, but I'm going to choose Penrose tilings as this is maths anyone can understand. Alan Turing for Turing Machines - particularly the fact that a multi tape machine can be modelled by a single tape machine. This concept strikes me as being at the heart of modern thinking. It certainly influences my writing...

Two scientists. First, Schrödinger - except he wasn't born in the 20th century, so I am going to cheat and use Claus Jönsson (born 26th May 1930). Jönsson performed for the first time a version of the double-slit experiment using electrons.  Fred Hoyle, because the steady state universe seems to be just so right. If you have read my books, you'll know why I picked these two.

Next, another scientist, Richard Feynman, not only as a physicist but as a writer, because Six Easy Pieces is just so good: I most admire writers who can communicate complex ideas in simple language. The section in the book entitled 'Matter is Made of Atoms' is a perfect example of this.

And lastly, I choose Jonas Salk, because there are many things that you may choose to do with your life, but doing something like developing a vaccine for polio strikes me as being one of the best.

Tony Ballantyne


Tony Ballantyne is the author of the 'Penrose and Recursion' series of novels as well as many acclaimed short stories that have appeared in magazines and anthologies around the world. He has been nominated for the BSFA and Philip K. Dick awards. His most recent novel is Dream Paris, a follow up to the critically acclaimed Dream London, was published in September 2015. He is currently getting in touch with his SF roots by writing a Space Opera. Due to popular demand, he has also recently begun working on a series of short stories set in his 'Recursion' universe. Tony's science musings can be found at the Tony Ballantyne Tech Blog in addition to his official Tony Ballantyne website.

Reviews on this site of Tony's novels include: Recursion, Capacity, Divergence and Blood and Iron.  Tony currently is the only author whose Nature 'Future' stories we have chosen as our selection as among the 'Best Futures of the Year' for more than one year: in fact, we have picked his 'Futures' 1-page short stories three times!  Check out: 'The Cleverest Man in the World', 'If Only' and 'Takeway'.


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