MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Tiger by the Tail (1951)
A.G. Nourse
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A pocketbook contains a gateway to another universe, and a group of unlikely heroes tries to save ours from the aliens there by reaching in and grabbing it.

Contributed by sarah-marie belcastro

This is a cute short story, with a not-particularly-sound gateway into another dimension. However, the mathematical discussion of which surfaces can be inverted through pinholes is well-done.

Contributed by Anonymous

i read this years ago and it stuck with me as a disturbing little story. I have often wondered what the other end intended.

Note that at least some of the story is available for free at the moment as part of a Google Book. Unfortunately, the part Sarah-Marie Belcastro mentions is on a page that is missing from that free version. Here is an excerpt for your convenience:

(quoted from Tiger by the Tail)

Collins dropped an aluminum button into the purse. It went through the aluminum circle and vanished. "Say," he asked suddenly, scowling, "what do you mean you can't turn this thing inside out?"

"It's a second-order geometric form." Evanson lit a cigarette carefully. "You can turn a first-order form, like a sphere or rubber ball, inside out through a small hole in the surface. But, you can't turn an inner tube inside out, no matter what you do."

"Why not?"

"Because it's got a hole in it. And you can't pull a hole through a hole, not even an infinitesimal hole."

Originally published in Galaxy in 1951, reprinted in 1961 in an anthology of the same name and in the book 50 Short Science Fiction Tales edited by Asimov and Conklin in 1997.

Important Mathematical Note: Chris Chiesa has written to point out that the claim of this story is incorrect. In fact, it is possible to invert an "innertube" through a hole. Moreover, it is an interesting inversion, because doing so reverses the role of the two directions on the surface. Or, as Wikipedia (currently) puts it, "If a torus is punctured and turned inside out then another torus results, with lines of latitude and longitude interchanged." Thank you, Chris, for bringing that to our attention!

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Works Similar to Tiger by the Tail
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Left or Right by Martin Gardner
  2. Technical Error by Arthur C. Clarke
  3. The Cube Root of Conquest by Rog Phillips
  4. The Fifth-Dimension Catapult by Murray Leinster
  5. The Appendix and the Spectacles by Miles J. Breuer (M.D.)
  6. The Fourth-Dimensional Demonstrator by Murray Leinster
  7. The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
  8. An Episode of Flatland by Charles H. Hinton
  9. The Infinite Plane by Paul J. Nahin
  10. The Next Dimension by Vladimir Karapetoff
Ratings for Tiger by the Tail:
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:
2.25/5 (4 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
3.25/5 (4 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAliens, Higher/Lower Dimensions,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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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)