MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Axiom of Choice (2011)
David W. Goldman
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A ``choose-your-own-adventure'' story about a guitarist who must face the consequences of his decision to take a plane ride that ended in disaster. A brief but very nice discussion of The Axiom of Choice comes amid a flashback in which the protagonist recalls his college girlfriend, a math major.

The Good:

  • I loved those old choose-your-own-adventure books! (``If you open the box, go to page 431. Otherwise, go to page 480.")
  • The mathematical discussion is quite well done: accurate, informative and interesting.
  • The math major character is presented as appealing as well as smart, avoiding the stereotypes.
  • The idea of a choose-your-own-adventure book about/entitled "The Axiom of Choice" is quite clever!

The Bad:

  • It's not really a choose-your-own-adventure story since the whole point is to emphasize that you don't actually have a choice. This may boost the book's post-modern `cred', but I found it frustrating every time. (That, I suppose, is the point.)
  • I am always uncomfortable with works of fiction that conflate The Axiom of Choice and the question of whether people have free will. As far as I can tell, the Axiom of Choice is really something that has to do with the foundations of mathematics and set theory and has no direct philosophical implications to the question of whether people's actions are entirely the consequence of prior conditions. This story does not actually say that it does. In fact, the author does a very good job of mentioning some of the interesting aspects of this area of philosophy without including the hyperbole and mysticism that often accompany it. Nevertheless, I suspect that most people who read this will assume that a deeper connection exists between the math in the title and the philosophical dilemma beyond the fact that both involve the notion of `choice'.
It looks like the pros outweigh the cons -- not only in quantity (4 to 2) but in more important ways as well. Thanks to Catherine Asaro for bringing this interesting and well written story to my attention.

Originally Published in the Winter 2011 issue of the New Haven Review, this story is available free online as a PDF and has been nominated for a Nebula award.

More information about this work can be found at www.newhavenreview.com.
(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 Axiom of Choice
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Axiom of Choice by David Corbett
  2. Continuity by Buzz Mauro
  3. Problems for Self-Study by Charles Yu
  4. Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy
  5. The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming
  6. A Catastrophe Machine by Carter Scholz
  7. The Girl with the Celestial Limb by Pauline Melville
  8. Ratner's Star by Don DeLillo
  9. The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan
  10. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Ratings for The Axiom of Choice:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
2/5 (1 votes)
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Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)
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Categories:
GenreScience Fiction,
MotifFemale Mathematicians, Romance,
TopicReal Mathematics, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)