a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Reality Conditions (2005)
Alex Kasman
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!

The title story in the collection of the same name, this short story follows a mathematics grad student to a workshop at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. Although the story contains no supernatural component, it follows the outline of the famous Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh. The story includes some discussion of mathematical physics and complex numbers, but the main emphasis is on the character and his interaction with the "gods" of mathematics.

Contributed by Andrew Breslin

I am not a mathematician. I am a novelist and short story writer who happens to love mathematics. I don't know mathematics on a deep level, but I like to think I'm well versed on the craft of story telling, and this is grade A.

I'm a little surprised that previous raters had an inverse evaluation than I did, giving the mathematical content over 4 on average, while the literary quality is somewhat less. The story is about a mathematician, yes, but although the math involved went sailing so far over my head that I barely heard the whistle, this in no way diminished my enjoyment of the story. Nor would any reader need to know any math at all to appreciate it. This, I think, speaks to its high literary quality. There is a certain timeless and universal appeal here, something that gets to the heart of what it means to be human, not just what it means to be a mathematician.

A frequent flaw with novice crafters of fiction is an attempt to make a protagonist an "everyman," a heavy-handed effort to artificially create that aforementioned universal appeal, and one almost inevitably doomed to fail. What they learn, eventually, if they want to learn, is that the key to touching on our common humanity lies in specificity, not generality.

I was not surprised to learn that the story is essentially modeled on the ancient legend of Gilgamesh. There's a lot to be said for the old adage that there aren't any new stories, just new perspectives, interpretations, and presentations of old ones. This is an ideal example of precisely that.

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Works Similar to Reality Conditions
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Lemma 1 by Helga Königsdorf
  2. Goldman's Theorem by R.J. Stern
  3. Maths on a Plane by P T
  4. The Imaginary by Isaac Asimov
  5. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  6. Strange Attractors by Rebecca Goldstein
  7. The Exception by Alex Kasman
  8. Maxwell's Equations by Alex Kasman
  9. Monster by Alex Kasman
  10. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
Ratings for Reality Conditions:
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:
4.5/5 (4 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.67/5 (3 votes)

MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Proving Theorems, Female Mathematicians, Romance,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Mathematical Physics,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)