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A Foundation in Wisdom (2012)
Robert Loyd Watson

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.

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Works Similar to A Foundation in Wisdom
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Dude, can you count? by Christian Constanda
  2. Lucy and David and the God Equation by Alan McKenzie
  3. A Little Mathematician - Katie by Tadashi Miura
  4. The Man Who Counted : A Collection of Mathematical Adventures by Malba Tahan
  5. Journey into Geometries by Marta Sved
  6. Flatterland: like Flatland, only more so by Ian Stewart
  7. The Mathematician’s Nightmare: The Vision of Professor Squarepunt by Bertrand Russell
  8. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
  9. Harvey Plotter and the Circle of Irrationality by Nathan Carter / Dan Kalman
  10. Matrices by Steven Nightingale
Ratings for A Foundation in Wisdom:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Fantasy, Didactic,
TopicLogic/Set Theory,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)