a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is afraid of most things, but he loves his mother (a famous research psychologist), his twin sister (a tough girl who looks out for him), and math. So, he is in trouble when his mother is almost killed and his sister disappears...but he is uncharacteristically brave as he uses both his mathematical ability and his unusual relationship with fear to figure out what happened.
The book was initially released in the UK under the title "White Rabbit, Red Wolf". When I first read a description of the book, it sounded to me a lot like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. There are similarities: The protagonist/narrator is a math-loving British boy whose unusual behaviors (he is antisocial, compulsive, overly literal, and apt to recite lists of numbers in times of stress) are a problem for his mother. He unexpectedly gets caught up solving a mystery involving violence. Also like "Curious Incident", although it is marketed as a "young adult" novel, this book seems to be getting a lot of positive press and readership from adults.
So, once I received my copy of the American version (which has been retitled "This Story is a Lie") and started reading it, I was surprised at how different it was. This is much more of an adventure story, involving a secret government spy agency. And, the twins' are able to harness their abilities (fear and mathematical ability for Peter and fighting ability for his sister Bel) as powerful weapons making them almost like comic book superheroes.
I must warn you that Peter is not an entirely reliable narrator. For those of you who would scold me for this "spoiler", I'd defend myself by pointing out that the subtitle of the British version of the book and the title of the American version is "This Story is a Lie", so it should not come as much of a surprise if not everything it tells the reader is entirely true!
Here are some of the mathematical highlights of the book. (I promise...no more spoilers!)
I'm also going to complain just a little bit about the discussion of Gödel in this book. First, I do give the author credit for basically getting the math right. There are plenty of complete misrepresentations of the Incompleteness Theorems or their proofs in works of fiction, and this is not one of them. In fact, the title "This Story is a Lie" is used as a way of explaining the proof method based on a paradox, and he even gets into the role of the Gödel numbering system (which is presented here as sort of "code"). Not bad, really. But, Peter reacts to learning of the Incompleteness Theorems the way many other fictional characters do: he decides that if there is no way to know that a proof exists for something he was studying, then he might as well give up! That doesn't make any sense to me, and I'm not aware of any real people reacting that way even though it seems to be rather common in fiction. (Look, most things one would try to prove are really hard to prove, and so it seems more likely that you won't be able to find a proof that exists out there somewhere than that the thing you're working on happens to be undecidable!) In addition, like so many other works of fiction and non-fiction, this book seems to draw some sort of lesson about the pursuit of mathematical truth from the sad tale of Kurt Gödel's delusional state when he died in a hospital as an old man. I am not convinced that this is logical or justified, and it unfortunately has the effect of steering young people away from mathematical pursuits. (Look, lots of people have dementia and delusions when they are old and hospitalized. That's a relatively common occurrence and I don't see any reason to think it was related to his work in mathematics.)
In conclusion, this is quite an exciting tale which includes a good many references to mathematics. If you like violent spy stories with a bit of math and a science fiction twist, then it is worth a look.
|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.)|
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)