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Zilkowski's Theorem (2003)
Karl Iagnemma
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for literati.

This is a story of a love triangle with a definite mathematical twist. Henderson's roommate, Czogloz, steals away his girlfriend, Milla, when all three were math graduate students. Years later, seeking revenge, Henderson attends a conference and very impolitely points out an error in Czogloz's proof. ("On transparency eleven, you claim that if the matrix B is positive definite then H is nonsingular, but you don't discuss the case where B is positive semidefinite. And of course it's possible that for a dissipative system, B could be positive semidefinite. And thus H could be singular . And thus noninvertible.") Afterwards, Czogloz tells Henderson that he and Milla are to be married...and that Milla -- having found religion -- wants to tell the truth about who actually proved the main theorem in her Ph.D. thesis!

This short story is one of three "mathematical" stories by Iagnemma which appear in his collection On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction: Stories". Iagnemma recently received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from MIT where he now works as a research scientist. In addition, his short stories have been published in many prestitigious literary magazines and have won him numerous prizes.

This story is also (at least for the moment!) available for free on the Website of Zoetrope magazine where it was originally published: click here.

Contributed by Sonja Dezman

I've just read Zilkowski's theorem and I have to tell you that it is interesting, in a way. There is a love triangle. All the characters in this story are mathematicians. Which is most interesting to me. (BTW the woman mathematician in my copy is called Maria and not Milla!) So there are 2 male mathematicians and one female mathematician. Everything is focused on Zilkowski's theorem (which I think is fictional). There's not actually something special in this story. There is Maria, who likes to cook. She is dating one mathematician and has an affair with another one. Later on she changes, becomes religious and admits that her lover wrote the Zilkowski's theorem for her. And that is it. Oh, there is some sport mentioned and a few famous mathematicians (Euler).

Contributed by John C. Konrath

Mr. Iagnemma has a keen understanding of human behavior and does an excellent job portraying realistic characters. 'Zilkowski's Theorem' is a concise, interesting tale about what motivates people's actions told in a mathematical setting. Strongly Recommended!

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Works Similar to Zilkowski's Theorem
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Herr Doctor's Wondrous Smile by Vladimir Tasic
  2. Lemma 1 by Helga Königsdorf
  3. The Ore Miner's Wife by Karl Iagnemma
  4. The Penultimate Conjecture by Leonard Michaels
  5. On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction by Karl Iagnemma
  6. Continuums by Robert Carr
  7. Towel Season by Ron Carlson
  8. The Arnold Proof by Jessica Francis Kane
  9. Problems for Self-Study by Charles Yu
  10. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
Ratings for Zilkowski's Theorem:
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:
3.83/5 (6 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.17/5 (6 votes)

MotifAcademia, Proving Theorems, Female Mathematicians, Romance, Religion,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)