a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

Understand (1991)
Ted Chiang
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

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 Lapo Fanciullo

I forgot: the novelette can be foud online at

Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at logo
(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. Time, Like an Ever Rolling Stream by Judith Moffett
  7. Gödel's Sunflowers by Stephen Baxter
  8. Habitus by James Flint
  9. Planck Zero by Stephen Baxter
  10. The Imaginary by Isaac Asimov
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:
2/5 (4 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.75/5 (4 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

Home All New Browse Search About

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)