MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Ms Fnd in a Lbry (1961)
Hal Draper
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Contributed by "William E. Emba"

Hal Draper took a break from his life's work of promoting Marxism, and wrote one science fiction story. The information explosion, and associated storage and retrieval problems, is humorously examined in this short story. (This story is also of historical interest, containing one of the earliest predictions of the Web.)

Knowledge is expanding exponentially, as humanity fills the galaxy and then some. But advances in physics (which Draper describes in fictional mathematical terms) are able to keep up with the storage problem, until all of human knowledge, for all time to come, is packed into one drawer. Of course, there is one wee problem. Retrieval is ultimately macroscopic. And so the indexes grow. And when they get miniaturized, the indexes to the indexes grow. And so on, which then leads to a higher-order index of the iterated indexes, and then so on again. All this is spelled out in some detail.

The neverending recursion, while threatening to grow to Ackermann-like proportions, is still manageable. But when a spontaneously generated Gödelian self-reference is discovered in the indexing system, the whole lbry, and with it all of human civilization, collapses overnight. Absolutely hilarious.

Originally appeared in the December 1961 issue of the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction. Reprinted in Isaac Asimov and Janet Jeppson (eds) Laughing Space and Groff Conklin (ed) 17 Times Infinity.

Contributed by Mark Wieder

This really deserves to be anthologized again. I just came across it in my old copy of 17 X Infinity and did a web search for Hal Draper when I could stop laughing long enough.

Contributed by Ceres Wunderkind

This story has a wicked twist in its last paragraph. I first read it in 17*Infinity at the age of nine or ten and have never forgotten it.

Contributed by Dave

I read this story as a teen back when it first came out. At the time it seemed just OK. As I get older and computer and information technologies change (and mature?) I am reminded from time to time of this story by events in those fields.

The most recent event was this interesting article on nanotech. It won't be long before the "Virus" "Computer Virus" takes on the same old meaning as it does for people. As the hardware gets smaller, the story by Hal Draper seems to take on a more real quality. I wonder what Hollywood could do with it?

Contributed by jotter

I read this as a 12 year old, and it has stayed with me, much as described by others. I lost the title for a good while to an imperfect memory. Amusingly, the story title and author (as well as this site) were retrieved for me by a Google Answers search based on a description of the plot.

Contributed by RSC

November 2007: I did a search for this story at a time when the British Government appears to be threatened with meltdown over the loss of 2 data disks containing 25 million personal details. No one can find them and it is not known if they were lost, stolen or even roughly where they are. I immediately recalled this story which I haven't seen for about 40 years. To me the story is a reminder that whatever system you build you cannot factor out human error: it will always come to drop that banana-skin. Also it's a prophetic warning isued right at the start of the information age. In terms of maths it's probably at the philosophical end, and of course it employs a lot of very hilarious science pseudo-science jargon: I continued to chuckle about the "nudged quanta" for the next 40 years. It can be found on the internet within seconds: (some irony in that?)

Contributed by Allan

A friend emailed me a scanned copy of the story and I decided to find out who this "Hal Draper" person was, since at age 61 and a lover of Science Fiction, I had never heard of him.

I discovered that "MS FND IN A LBRY" was probably the only evidence of a sense of humor ever exhibited by Hal Draper.

While Eric Hoffer did not exactly say that Communism was a Cult in "The True Believer," he did identify that for someone to write so extensively on the history of Marx and other founders of Communism indicates a level of obsessiveness and lack of a grasp of reality.

Too bad, because the realization that we are now in "The Age of Information Overload" is brilliant and indicates a real potential for a sense of humor by Draper.

But that's just my opinion.

Contributed by OX Brown

I absolutely loved it. The humor was fantastic and right on target.

(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 Ms Fnd in a Lbry
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  2. Quanto scommettiamo ("How much do you want to bet?") by Italo Calvino
  3. The Pacifist by Arthur C. Clarke
  4. The Tale of the Big Computer (aka The End of Man?) by Hannes Alfven (writing as Olof Johannesson)
  5. The Indefatigable Frog by Philip K. Dick
  6. Izzy at the Lucky Three by Eliot Fintushel
  7. The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
  8. Message Found in a Copy of Flatland by Rudy Rucker
  9. The Holmes-Ginsbook Device by Isaac Asimov
  10. Four Brands of Impossible by Norman Kagan
Ratings for Ms Fnd in a Lbry:
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:
2.89/5 (9 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
3.99/5 (9 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
Motif
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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Your Help Needed: Some site visitors remember reading works of mathematical fiction that neither they nor I can identify. It is time to crowdsource this problem and ask for your help! You would help a neighbor find a missing pet...can't you also help a fellow site visitor find some missing works of mathematical fiction? Please take a look and let us know if you have seen these missing stories anywhere!.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)