MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Rule of Four (2004)
Ian Caldwell / Dustin Thomason
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Contributed by Vijay Fafat

There is an enigmatic book from the late 15th century called Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, written by an Italian monk, Francesco Colonna (available at gutenberg.org for download). The book chronicles the dream-within-a-dream love adventure of Poliphilo and his object of affection, Polia. The enigma of the book arises from the author’s use of vocabulary from multiple languages and neologisms, which give it an inscrutable, labyrinth-like quality and a suspicion that it contains far more than just the richly illustrated love story.

“The Rule of Four” takes off on this premise that there is a hidden code in the text of Hypnerotomachia; in fact, the entire book is a cipher pointing to a very well-guarded secret. Set on the grounds of Princeton University, “The Rule of Four” shows how two students unlock the mystery. Naturally, the book is full of allusions to cryptography, mathematical patterns, breathless chases, historical and current murders, lost manuscripts, etc. For example,

  • an expert at the mathematical analysis of the Torah plays a role,
  • the sequence 3, 4, 6, 9 is found to unlock one part of the book since “it is the smallest sequence which produces all three harmonies (arithmetic, geometric and harmonic)” [I don’t know what this means].
  • Eratosthenes and his measurement of Earth’s circumference based on the geometry of shadows is discussed when one of the clues requires the students to calculate “the distance between you and the horizon” (the sub-puzzle at this point of the story is about art and perspective drawing).
  • Quote from book: “The most complicated concept he taught me was how to decode a book based on algorithms or ciphers from the text itself. In those cases, the key is built right on. You solve for the cipher, like an equation or a set of instructions, the you use the cipher to unlock the text. The book acually interprets itself.”
The novel is a lot of fun to read and savor.

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(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Rule of Four
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  2. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  3. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
  4. The Eight by Katherine Neville
  5. Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
  6. Decoded by Mai Jia
  7. Hickory Dickory Shock! The Tale of Techies by Sundip Gorai
  8. Mercury Rising by Harold Becker (director)
  9. No Regrets by Shannon Butcher
  10. The Expert by Lee Gruenfeld
Ratings for The Rule of Four:
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(unrated)

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Categories:
GenreAdventure/Espionage,
MotifReligion,
TopicComputers/Cryptography,
MediumNovels,

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Your Help Needed: Some site visitors remember reading works of mathematical fiction that neither they nor I can identify. It is time to crowdsource this problem and ask for your help! You would help a neighbor find a missing pet...can't you also help a fellow site visitor find some missing works of mathematical fiction? Please take a look and let us know if you have seen these missing stories anywhere!.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)