a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|A semi-serious Lovecraftian novel set in New Zealand's Te Aro suburb featuring some mystical mathematicians (and questions of Platonism) in a central role.
This sequel to the Danyl McLauchlan's "Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley" continues to be a sort of satire of the progressive culture of this Wellington suburb and features the same protagonist, also named Danyl. Although his main goal is to find his missing ex-girlfriend, he soon also is searching for a missing math student about whom he is told:
And that thing we aren't supposed to think about is whether math might not just be something hypothetical we create in our brains but something with its own independent reality:
Starting with this combinatorial question and through a (slightly misphrased) leap into infinite series, the town administrator who has rescued Danyl from homelessness derives the irrational number e and its usefulness in describing reality. In other words, the mystery that we are not to ponder is the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.
In many ways, the fantastical parts of this novel can be categorized as science fiction, but it also has a mystical/supernatural component to it:
So, it is one of many works of fiction in which math and magic are seen as being interrelated.
As the plot develops, we meet more mathematical characters and a Da Vinci Code-esque conspiracy theory is built up around the origins of non-Euclidean geometry. How, we are asked to ponder, could so many different mathematicians (Schweikart, Gauss, Bolyai and Lobachevsky, for example) all suddenly be making progress on this same subject at the same time? As the meme tells us, it must be aliens! But, in MMOTAV they are aliens from a separate mathematical universe who are threatening our own and must be stopped. That, in itself, is a common theme (if not a "meme") in mathematical fiction. See, for example, Luminous and Doctor Who: The Algebra of Ice
(By the way, no conspiracy theory is needed to explain the fact that many isolated mathematicians will achieve similar results at about the same time. That is how research works, not only in math but in science as well. Previous discoveries and new theories lay the groundwork for progress in certain directions. Also, at each point in history certain open problems within math or its applications will are recognized as the hot/important problems, which will push people to work on the same topics. So, it is to be expected that different research groups who are familiar with those new results will simultaneously make similar or closely related discoveries.)
I often say in these reviews whether I recommend the work or not, but in this case I will instead propose a test. How you respond to the following quote I think will show whether you would enjoy reading this book as a work of mathematical fiction:
If you read that and think "wow, that sounds cool; I want to know more" then you should read this book.
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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.)|
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)