MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Atrocity Archives (2004)
Charles Stross
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!

"The Laundry" is a British spy organization which is responsible for suppressing certain dangerous math research. The occult implications of mathematics became clear with Alan Turing's paper "Phase Conjugate Grammars for Extra-dimensional Summoning." In Turing's day, it was not a big deal, but now with computers everywhere it is just too easy for people to accidentally call upon other dimensional beings, making their job very difficult.

Of course, even though there was a real Alan Turing, he did not do any work on "extra-dimensional summoning". But this novella (which only takes up half the book, and was originally published as a series in Spectrum in 2001) does a great job of making it seem real, and quite funny as well. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft are likely to enjoy this book, but it is actually closer to hard SF than it is to straight horror.

The plot involves the notion that the Nazis were heavily involved in the use of this occult mathematics for the purpose of summoning "demons"...and that they actually did so in a "nearby" alternate universe. Some of the descriptions are a bit on the disgusting side, so I would definitely not recommend this book for children. But, as long as you can handle some disgusting stuff and keep in mind that its all just made up, its a rather fun ride!

The mathematical references are frequent and explicit. For instance

(quoted from The Atrocity Archives)

The theorem is a hack on discrete number theory that simulatneously disproves the Church-Turing hypothesis (Wave if you understood that) and worse, permits NP-complete problems to be converted in to P-complete ones. This has several consequences, starting with screwing over most cryptography algorithms -- translation: all your bank account [sic] belong to us -- and ending with the ability to computationally generate a Dho-Nha geometry curve in real time. This latter item is just slightly less dangerous than allowing nerds with laptops to wave a magic wand and turn them into hydrogen bombs at will.

It is these "Dho-Nha geometry curves" which allow beings to be summoned forth. Later, the mathematics is "explained" a bit more as we are witnessing a controlled summoning during a class for staff at the Laundry:

(quoted from The Atrocity Archives)

That's not to say that it's safe, though -- you can kill yourself quite easily by treating the equipment with disrespect. Just in case you've forgotten, this current is carrying fifteen amps at six hundred volts, and the baseboard is insulated and oriented correctly along a north-south magnetic axis. The geometry we're using for this run is a modified Minkowski space that we can derive by setting pi to four; there's no fractal dimension involved, but things are complicated slightly because the space to which we're mapping this diagram has a luminiferous aether.

More than half of the published book focuses on this very mathematical plotline, and then it switches at the end to a different story (on the quantum mechanics of gorgonism!)


Well, the sequel called "The Jennifer Morgue" came out in 2007. Unfortunately, it is not very mathematical. There is a paragraph that mentions the mathematical role of "The Laundry"...but then goes on to explain that there is an equivalence between computer science and mathematics. Though that is not a completely false claim, I do not support it to the extent that I believe this book is mathematical fiction! The book has a similar feel to its predecessor, but in place of math there is computer stuff (not theoretical, but rather explicit references to popular operating systems, USB connections, Bluetooth, etc.) and a lot about James Bond! If you enjoyed The Atrocity Archive you may well also enjoy Jennifer Morgue, but don't read it (as I did) expecting to see any math.

Contributed by Read September

Written as a serial, so often repeats or dithers off into a 'mathy' explanation of things. It has a good, imaginative plot and interesting characters.

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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 The Atrocity Archives
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  2. The Object by Alex Kasman
  3. The Coincidence Engine by Sam Leith
  4. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  5. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  6. Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy
  7. A Logical Magician by Robert Weinberg
  8. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
  9. Nymphomation by Jeff Noon
  10. The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke / Frederik Pohl
Ratings for The Atrocity Archives:
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:
3.67/5 (6 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
3.83/5 (6 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHumorous, Science Fiction, Horror,
MotifCool/Heroic Mathematicians, Real Mathematicians, War, Romance, Turing,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Logic/Set Theory,
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)