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Borzag and the Numerical Apocalypse (2006)
Jason Earls
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

I must warn you that I am a trained mathematician, but NOT a trained expert on literature. Among other consequences, this means that I sometimes have trouble telling the difference between brilliant, experimental writing and just plain bizarro gobbledygook. (I sometimes even doubt that there is a difference, but that is a different subject.) This short story by a self-professed "computational number theorist" is a case in point, but I'm pretty sure that it falls on the "brilliant, experimental writing" side.

Narratively speaking, this is the story of a martial arts instructor who is experiencing visitations from aliens. (Borzag is the name he gives to a two headed lizard that the alien gives him as a gift.) But, interspersed among the text are the results of Earls' computations. For instance, the continued fraction expansion of the number which is the title of the book in which it appears, or a list of the smallest integer kn such that kn*10n added to the nth prime is itself a prime number for n=4, 5, 6, ... up to some large value (I didn't count). Consequently, there are often pages of numerical data in between the passages of text!

Sometimes the narrative is serious (such as when he kills the alien), and sometimes it is intentionally humorous (such as when we meet aliens whose plan it is to conquer the earth by distributing intricately carved wooden toothpicks). Sometimes the text even has to do with mathematics (such as when some aliens reveal that the transcendental number πe is the key to their scientific advances or that they are trying to prove a theorem which will prompt God to save the universe from being conquered by storms of personified numbers). But, it is always quite strange.

Most of the time, I found myself skipping over the pages of numbers. Most readers will probably react the same way. But, sometimes I felt compelled to check whether they are actually correct. At least for the ones I could easily check with a computer algebra package, it seems that the data is correct. Being a mathematician, I was even more curious to know whether some of his claims that cannot simply be verified by computation are correct. For instance, he claims that the sequence of kn's described above is infinite and contains every natural number. I would be grateful if Earls or some other number theorist could write in with information about the status of this claim. Is it known to be true (i.e. is it a theorem)? Is it possibly true (i.e. a conjecture)? Or is it just nonsense made up for a story?

In any case, this story is sure to please anyone who has a taste both for bizarre writing and mathematics. It is available in the collection entitled 0.1361015212836455566789110512013615... along with the story life.exe. Earls announces that his forthcoming novel "Cocoon of Terror" is also a work of mathematical fiction.

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Works Similar to Borzag and the Numerical Apocalypse
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Self-Reference ENGINE by Toh EnJoe
  2. Genghis Khan and 888 by Jason Earls
  3. Red Zen by Jason Earls
  4. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
  5. life.exe by Jason Rogers
  6. The Adventures of Topology Man by Alex Kasman
  7. Monster by Alex Kasman
  8. Book of Knut: a novel by Knut Knudson by Halvor Aakhus
  9. 2+2=5 by Rudy Rucker / Terry Bisson
  10. The Secret Number by Igor Teper
Ratings for Borzag and the Numerical Apocalypse:
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 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifAliens, Religion,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)