a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|A hitchhiker named Sheridan captivates the man kind enough to offer him a ride with fantastic tales of the Roman village of Ebon and the hero named Marcus who saved it from a giant dachshund named Dachy.
Both Sheridan and Marcus are mathematicians. Sheridan peppers his dialogue with mathematical references (e.g. "If you exclude the 1-800 portion, the telephone numbers on the billboards, lined up, form the Fibonacci sequence.") and Marcus himself is on a journey which he hopes will take him to "the Conference" a "three-day winner-take-all contest" where "[m]athematicians from all over arrived, wielding their best research, the remains of the public's affection at stake."
Despite the frequent references to mathematics surrounding these two characters, the primary focus of the book seems more philosophical in nature. Toying with the boundaries between skepticism and nihilism, both story lines revolve around the question of how (and if) we can prove that the world exists. (Much is said in the book about what the word "proof" would mean in this context, as it is emphasized that a rigorous and mathematical proof and not simply a scientific/empirical proof is desired, but not much is said about what "exists" means.)
Early in the book, Sheridan discusses the distinction between parallel universes (which he claims would never meet, by definition) and orthogonal universes which could. According to the cover, A Foundation in Wisdom is only the first book in a series called "An Orthogonal Universe". (Coincidentally, Greg Egan's new book series has a similar name.) It is therefore not too much of a surprise that the distinction between the "real world" (in which the most unusual thing seems to be Sheridan's uncanny ability to know what his host is thinking) and the fantastical world where Marcus lives (where even highways and streams can carry on conversations) becomes less clear throughout the book.
The author of the book is a math professor at Mount Olive College. In the acknowledgements, he thanks his classmates at the University of Tulsa, where he was an undergraduate, for conversations which helped to inspire the book. Interestingly, even before I had read that remark, I had decided that this book reminded me very much of the conversations students might have during sleepless nights in dorm rooms. Having those conversations is fun. (Even the lamest joke can lead to uncontrollable laughter under those circumstances.) Such conversations can also be intellectually stimulating. (I am all for skepticism and discussing even those questions that we cannot answer.) However, I fear that it is one of those "you had to be there" things which does not survive well the translation from a late-night, interactive experience into a novel. That, at least, was my feeling. I hope others will read the book and share their thoughts about it with the rest of us here.
|Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.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.)|
May 2016: I am experimenting with a new feature which will print a picture of the cover and a link to the Amazon.com page for a work of mathematical fiction when it is available. I hope you find this useful and convenient. In any case, please write to let me know if it is because I would be happy to either get rid of it or improve it if that would be better for you. Thanks! -Alex
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)