a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

Lemma 1 (1978)
Helga Königsdorf
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

This short story by an East German author concerns a mathematics graduate student who realizes right before her thesis defense that Lemma 1 (the initial small step on which the rest of her results depend) is wrong. The story includes a thorough explanation of the structure of math research papers and the role that lemmas play in them, but it is more about the politics of the situation than about the math.

This story appears in the collection "Meine ungehörigen Träume" in 1978, though it was probably also published earlier. (If you know the original publication date, please let me know so I can update the entry.) It does not appear to have ever been translated into English. I am very grateful to Ingrid Voigt for bringing this author and her mathematical fiction to my attention and to Hauke Reddmann for taking the time to read and review it for me. Here are some of their remarks:

Contributed by Ingrid Voigt

A suggestion for your MathFiction collection. Many of the short stories of German writer Helga Königsdorf would qualify. She was both a mathematician and a writer, quite a bit of her work is set in the "Institut für Zahlographie" - "Institute for Numbergraphy".

Contributed by Hauke Reddmann

It is tempting to read too much into the work of Helga Königsdorf, mathematician and writer, who survived the Nazis, the GDR, broken ideals and Parkinsons disease (and recently died in 2014 at age 75). She was one of the many who believed socialism to be a good thing and only the real existing one being faulty. Liability of the scientist and feminism were a main theme in her work, but given that her husband and son are mathematicians too, there is surprisingly little math in her stories.

"Meine ungehörigen Träume" (1978) - Contains the short stories "Lemma 1" and "Krise" which could be termed Social Math (in analogy to Social Fiction, a category of SF). Content: If I'd botched a lemma, so there, I'm an amateur. If a capitalist mathematician botches a lemma, it might *very* theoretically endanger his job. If a communist mathematician botches a lemma and ruins the 5 Year Plan...The botchess is rather lucky that her superiors, who signed the botchery without looking, have to take most of the flak.

(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 Lemma 1
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Krise [Crisis] by Helga Königsdorf
  2. Zilkowski's Theorem by Karl Iagnemma
  3. Reality Conditions by Alex Kasman
  4. The Penultimate Conjecture by Leonard Michaels
  5. The First Circle by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
  6. Apartheid, Superstrings and Mordecai Thubana by Michael Bishop
  7. Technical Error by Arthur C. Clarke
  8. Stay Close, Little Ghost by Oliver Serang
  9. Advanced Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  10. Division by Zero by Ted Chiang
Ratings for Lemma 1:
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:
5/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

MotifAcademia, Proving Theorems, Female Mathematicians,
MediumShort Stories,

Home All New Browse Search About

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)