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Strange Attractors (1990)
William Sleator
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for young adults.

Time-travel story for young adolescents with a little bit of chaotic dynamical systems thrown in. The plot follows Max, a high school student with an interest in math and science, as he becomes involved in a dangerous contest between two copies of Dr. Sylvan and his beautiful daughter...but which is the dangerous pair from another universe and which is the pair that he ought to be helping? One Dr. Sylvan has the shape of an athlete and the guile of a politician while the other is serious and a bit out of shape. One of the Eve Sylvans is thin, made-up and in love with Max, the other doesn't wear mascara, slouches a bit, and wants to have as little to do with Max as possible. Each pair claims they need Max's help to stop the other pair from destroying his time-line with their time machine!

The math here is little more than window dressing, and not used correctly at that. Bifurcation diagrams are described several times in the text, but the bifurcation diagrams that are used in chaotic dynamics do not indicate a splitting of universes but rather the location of periodic points in a parametric family of dynamical systems. (I suppose if you made a graph showing splitting of universes you could call it a bifurcation diagram too, but there is no reason to think the two are at all related.) Worse is the author's idea of a strange attractor as an attractive person who pulls a system into chaos. (In fact, a strange attractor is simply a measure-zero attractor in a dynamical system which has fractal dimension. This is a hallmark of a chaotic system, but it does not "create" the chaos.) The closest we get to actually learning anything is from the several mentions of the idea of sensistive dependence in chaotic dynamical systems. (However, he fails to recognize that this notion is believed to apply to our universe as it is now, and that one would not need to imagine people and things appearing randomly to be able to claim that reality is chaotic.)

That's what the adult me, the mathematician me, thinks about this book. Too much of the math is used incorrectly. But, reading this book awoke part of the young teenager I was back in the 1980's, and I can say for certain that the boy I was would have really loved this book!

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Works Similar to Strange Attractors
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Boy Who Reversed Himself by William Sleator
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  3. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  4. The Curve of the Snowflake by William Grey Walter
  5. Paradox by John Meaney
  6. Simpsons (Episode: Homer3) by John Swarzwelder / Steve Tomkins / David S. Cohen
  7. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  8. To Hold Infinity by John Meaney
  9. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
  10. Death Qualified: A Mystery of Chaos by Kate Willhelm
Ratings for Strange Attractors:
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:
3/5 (3 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.5/5 (4 votes)

GenreScience Fiction, Children's Literature,
MotifTime Travel, Romance,

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Great News for 1 April 2016: The long awaited cover of the comic book adaptation of The Adventures of Topology Man has been released. See here for details.

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