MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Understand (1991)
Ted Chiang
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Contributed by "William E. Emba"

"An experimental treatment for a drowning victim turns him into an incredible supergenius. Mathematics is mentioned several times in passing, and twice the supergenius explicitly uses it for his applications. But he forgets one obvious thing."

Originally published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, August 1991.

Contributed by Lapo Fanciullo

This novelette is breathtaking - perhaps the only serious attempt I've ever read at describing what a superhuman mind could be - but its focus on finding patterns and meaning in the world makes little mention of explicit mathematics.

The most notable passage, mathematically speaking, is when the protagonist decrypts in hours a file that would normally take years to a supercomputer, claiming to be using a technique for factoring large numbers he's discovered while amusing himself with number theory.

Contributed by Juan Mikalef

I'd say the focus is information theory rather than classic matematics. (spoiler alert) Though the evolution of the main character intelect is quite a compelling read, the key insight for me was how two equally powerful intelects, presented with the same information could diverge so wildly in their interpretations and actions, based solely in their relatives points of view of such reality (introspection for Leon, empathy for his nemesis).

Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life and Others is a mandatory read in my opinion.

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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 Understand
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
  2. Luminous by Greg Egan
  3. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  4. The Tower of Babylon by Ted Chiang
  5. I Sin Every Number by Jason Earls
  6. One by George Alec Effinger
  7. Planck Zero by Stephen Baxter
  8. Feigenbaum Number by Nancy Kress
  9. Into Darkness by Greg Egan
  10. Habitus by James Flint
Ratings for Understand:
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:
2.2/5 (5 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
3.8/5 (5 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreScience Fiction,
MotifGenius,
Topic
MediumShort Stories,

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May 2016: I am experimenting with a new feature which will print a picture of the cover and a link to the Amazon.com page for a work of mathematical fiction when it is available. I hope you find this useful and convenient. In any case, please write to let me know if it is because I would be happy to either get rid of it or improve it if that would be better for you. Thanks! -Alex

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)