a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
Home  All  New  Browse  Search  About 
... 

... 
This is another fantasy book in which mathematics is seen as a sort of magic, but in this one it is specifically a particularly evil, cold and inhuman form of magic, in contrast to other less formulaic sorts of magic. There are the Magi, who are mathematicians, interested only in communing with "the One" through the Infinity Chamber in the building called Threshold. On the other hand, there are the Elementals who are more interested in things like life, love and beauty.
Of course, I worry that this sort of thing will perpetuate the stereotype of mathematics as an inhuman endeavor, of interest only to people who cannot stand the beauty and uncertainty of real life (a viewpoint with which I strongly disagree). Moreover, I'm not sure what to make of the gender issues addressed by the book. Certainly, in the book it seems that Magi are exclusively male, but I am not certain whether this suggests (a) women cannot do math (b) women are not interested in math because they are too full of life or (c) women are only excluded by sexism. In any case, the love between Elemental Tirzah and her Magus slave owner Boaz which is the main focus of the plot may serve to lessen any harm done by these suggestions.
This viewpoint of Tirzah's, that it is sad when someone is interested in mathematics because math is "sterile" is one that worries me. I must admit, I do find beauty in mathematics, but it goes beyond predictability (which does sound somewhat sterile) into intricacy, complexity, depth, symmetry and other words which are often used to describe the beauty of works of art as well. Moreover, I do not think that my appreciation of mathematics comes at the expense of my ability to appreciate other things in life. BTW What did the author intend us to get out of the sequence (1, 3, 9, 81)? It looks like powers of three, except that the third power is missing, or is it the squares of powers of three with an extra term of 3 thrown into it? Either way, it doesn't quite make sense to me.
Although the book generally continues with the dichotomy that math is bad, lifeless magic, towards the end we find that there is even some mathematics in the Elemental magic.
Well, I can certainly identify with Boz when he sayd "that was the simple explanation." I've felt that way explaining math to students and others. And, I'm glad that the conclusion is that only someone with a mathematical background can understand it, because too many people believe that it requires some sort of innate ability. But, yes, some mathematics is difficult to explain to someone who does not have a great deal of prior experience. (Is that really unique to mathematics? I would think that most subjects get to such a point.) Anyway, this is a nice fantasy novel with a definite current of mathematics running through it. If I was not maintaining this website and therefore viewing myself as having the obligation of evaluating and criticizing the role of math in each book, I think I would just have enjoyed it. But, in as much as it says something about the author's opinion of mathematics, I worry that she may not recognize how beautiful and full of life mathematics really is. It is not, as the book suggests, the antithesis of such humanistic values. 
Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.com. 
(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.) 

Home  All  New  Browse  Search  About 
Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in nonfictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)