MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Ultimate Prime (2001)
Tom Petsinis
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
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A story narrated in second person about a youth with autism whose only interest is mathematics.

Since "you" are the protagonist in this story, it puts the reader inside the mind of an individual who thinks differently, who does poorly in all school subjects other than math, and who accepts an offer to work as a research assistant for a math professor over you" parents' objections. "You" become obsessed with the idea of finding "the ultimate prime", spending months trying to find a proof of its existence and only surviving thanks to occasional visits from the professor who feeds you and encourages you to continue trying to find it.

The idea that this story might give a reader the feeling of what it is like to be autistic is intriguing, but I have no reason to think that Petsinis really knows what it is like himself. Moreover, although there are of course really autistic people who have mathematical interests and talents, I do worry that it it is over-represented in fiction to the point that people incorrectly assume all autistic people are mathematical and that all mathematicians are autistic.

Still, I must give the author credit for attempting something very interesting. I do wish I could know what it is like to be able to recognize whether a very large integer is prime just by looking at it.

It was Dr. Allan Goldberg who found this story and brought it to my attention. His interpretation of it is that the protagonist has mistakenly concluded that there might be a largest prime number and is searching in vain for it. I do think it is possible that this was the author's intent. However, if that is the case then it is described very poorly. The passage explaining what "the ultimate prime" means in the story is completely garbled. If Goldberg's interpretation is correct, then this has to do with the character's own misunderstanding of mathematics. But, I'm not sure I agree because it is so badly stated and because I would not understand the professor's motivations in that case. I also consider it possible that the author was trying to say/do something else with this story but did not understand the math well enough to convey it.

This is not the only work of mathematical fiction by Petsinis. (See here.) It was published in a collection of stories all written in second person format called "The Death of Pan" by Penguin Books in 2001.

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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.)

Works Similar to The Ultimate Prime
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  2. Question 3 by Martin Sandahl (Director and Writer)
  3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  4. X+Y (A Brilliant Young Mind) by Morgan Matthews (Director) / James Graham (Writer)
  5. The Countable by Ken Liu
  6. Satisfactory Proof by Cynthia Morrison Phoel
  7. Continuums by Robert Carr
  8. The Wild Numbers by Philibert Schogt
  9. Zilkowski's Theorem by Karl Iagnemma
  10. Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture by Apostolos Doxiadis
Ratings for The Ultimate Prime:
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:
4/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
Genre
MotifProdigies, Academia, Proving Theorems, Autism, Math Education,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)