Can't remember a whole lot about this. Probably read it directly from the library's science fiction shelf, in the late 80s. A person was somehow being duplicated, I think; each duplication was different. One of the duplicates was an artist; another was an engineer.

The engineer was interrogating a computer, and discovered that the capacity of the computer was given in trits, i.e. triskadecimal units. I believe he thought to himself how much he would hate learning arithmetic in base 13.

Something about the style now makes me think the author could have been A. E. Van Vogt.

EDIT: the line I thought I remembered actually came from Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke:

I'd hate to do arithmetic, George thought to himself, in a system based on fourteen.

This book I'm looking for now definitely did have a base 13 computer, but there was probably no line about learning arithmetic in it.

  • Are you sure about both triskadecimal units and "trits"? In computer science "trits" is generally used for base three. – Hypnosifl Jun 15 '16 at 18:53
  • I'm sure. Yes, the book used it wrongly, but my memory is firm that the term was used that way. – Ross Presser Jun 15 '16 at 18:58
  • The main reason binary has become so prevalent is that it works well when you can't control voltage levels with extreme precision. – Howard Miller Jun 16 '16 at 2:34

This may be The Triune Man by Richard A. Lupoff (1976). On p. 55 on google books, there is a reference to "trits" as the equivalent of "bits" in a triskadecimal base system:

"My memory is hierarchic," the response came after a pause. "Prime storage access time is point-oh-oh-one picosecond. Prime capacity thirteen trillion trits—"

"Hold it!" Auburn interrupted. "Trits? What are trits?"

"Triskidecimal storage units, each subject to values ranging from zero through twelve."

Auburn actually laughed. Thirteen-base numbering! What kind of strange creatures had designed that system! But if it worked, it worked.

As described in the Kirkus review here, the plot seems to involve a character with "multiple selves" which sounds like it could match your description of a person being "duplicated":

Split-identity story of a gentle middle-aged cartoonist, creator of intrepid Diamond Sutro, unaccountably locked in the same body as an American Nazi leader. There's a third self unknown to the others, and a still more buried remnant awaiting its own moment. The action spins between a posh Earthside funny farm, a robot supercivilization to which the multiple selves are summoned to save the universe, and the Diamond Sutro cartoon plot's increasing encroachments on outside realities--with additional disturbing (and not awfully well-managed) WW II flashbacks. The denouement is brought off with confidence though in several shades of purple. A superior and stimulating effort.

  • I did search google books for "triskadecimal" and this didn't come up. How did you find it? – Ross Presser Jun 15 '16 at 19:51
  • 2
    I tried a few different searches on google books, the winning one turned out to be "trits" and "base thirteen". It looks like the "triskadecimal" search failed because the author misspelled it "triskidecimal". – Hypnosifl Jun 15 '16 at 19:55
  • For what it's worth, the "duplication" is explicit in the book. The character has MPD, but the aliens that are involved have a duplication machine used for transportation across light years. As it turns out in the end, once there are as many bodies as there were personalities, for some reason they stay fixed and don't switch / have blackouts, and each personality stays in its own body. – Ross Presser Aug 12 '16 at 1:11

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