a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Properties of Light (2000)
Rebecca Goldstein
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for literati.

This is a beautifully written novel about a theoretical physicist who hates the daughter of a more senior physicist whose work he admires. The real plot of the novel revolves around why he hates her, and I can't tell you that without spoiling the book. So you'll just have to read it to find out. But, along the way, we also learn a bit about quantum physics and in particular the view of this subject held by the characters in the book. Of course, that would make this "physical fiction" not "mathematical fiction", except for the fact that it is presented very mathematically.

What I mean is this: if one talks about quantum physics using words like "particle" and "wave" without ever defining those things in mathematical terms, then one is not really discussing mathematics explicitly. However, when the discussion is more precise, as it is here, including questions of whether there should be non-linear terms in the Schrodinger equation and what a wave function is, then one is in the realm of mathematical physics. This book definitely does so, and this is how I justify it as being "mathematical fiction", even though it is less mathematical than some of her earlier works including The Mind-Body Problem and Strange Attractors.

It seems clear to me that the physics in this book is based on the work of David Bohm, whose work on quantum physics is viewed by many as having been important and underappreciated.

Contributed by Anonymous

Any lay reader would be totally at sea as, certainly in the beginning, the book seems more textbook than novel. Still the playing around with time is clever and her writing is sometimes poetic and enchanting. I suppose one can only write about what one knows and within the limits of one's intelligence. Unfortunately Ms Goldstein is too intelligent for most readers I know.

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Works Similar to Properties of Light
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  2. Strange Attractors by Rebecca Goldstein
  3. The Bones of Time by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  4. The Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein
  5. Diaspora by Greg Egan
  6. Two Moons by Thomas Mallon
  7. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein
  8. Improbable by Adam Fawer
  9. Gambler's Rose by G.W. Hawkes
  10. Distress by Greg Egan
Ratings for Properties of Light:
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:
2.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

MotifAcademia, Romance,
TopicMathematical Physics,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)