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Supersymmetry finds its way into literary fiction

January 10, 2014

Louise Erdrich is one of America’s finest writers of literary fiction. I am partial to her because of her excellent writing and Native American themes that run through her work. I stumbled across a passage in her 2010 novel Shadow Tag that discusses supersymmetry — an elegant but speculative theory framework that relates boson particles to fermion particles. It’s the first discussion of supersymmetry I have seen in literary fiction, and it’s interesting how it is evoked. Here’s the passage:

“What kind of particle are you?

A worthy question, Top Quark. Let me think.

Florian smoked for a while, looking out over the constant motion of the lights.

Okay, I got it. I was going to say I am a tau, but no, I think I’m an unobserved particle. I’m only hypothetical. An electron gets a selectron. For every tau there is a stau. Floridan sang, For every muon there is a smuon.

A smuon?

They started laughing, tried to stop. Floridan started up again every time Riel said, Smuon?

For real. Smuon.

Florian got up and walked to the edge of the roof. For every muon there is a smuon! He sang and then pirouetted against the sky like a dancer in an old black-and-white movie.”

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