MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The End of Mr. Y (2006)
Scarlett Thomas
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
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After her thesis advisor disappears, a graduate students studying "thought experiments" in science and in fiction discovers a copy of the rare (and supposedly cursed) book "The End of Mr. Y". Following the recipe the book describes, she finds herself able to enter a higher level of reality from which she can access, occupy and even control the minds of others (other people as well as animals). Along the way, she falls in love with an ex-priest, stops an ex-school teacher from creating lines of lab mice, and is chased by two ex-CIA agents.

This book definitely tackles some big questions: What is consciousness? What is reality? And what sort of graphical user interface could we impose on them that would let us control them more easily? One cannot really expect Thomas to offer any real answers to the first two questions, since these are (and perhaps always will be) presently a bit beyond the scope or science and philosophy. But, as a thought experiment itself, this book offers some "food for thought"...one way to imagine what it might be.

Unlike Thomas' previous novel, PopCo, "The End of Mr. Y" does not have much explicit mathematics in it. There is some vague discussion of "higher dimensions", and a bit of mathematics flies by as one enters the Troposphere. But, mathematics plays an understated, major role. As we learn near the end of "The End...", mathematics is to our perceived reality as "machine code" is to a computer. On the one hand, this means that no matter how things might seem, underneath it all, everything is just mathematics (just as a user of a computer might think in terms of cursors and windows and menus, but inside it is nothing but Boolean logic and a bunch of 0's and 1's). More interestingly, however, it also means that people who really know mathematics well (like Albert Einstein or the heroine of the novel) can change reality.

(quoted from The End of Mr. Y)

``Yes, but he thought them in machine code,'' she says. ``Or, to put it another way, in mathematics. Einstein was able to think relativity into existence because he could think it in to the very fabric of the universe. And, of course his theories were plausible. They went with what had come before, even if they seemed counterintuitive.''

I make a little gasping noise. ``Mathematics. Of course.'' That's what machine code is made from. That's what makes the laws of physics.

In the sense that this book toys with the idea that mathematics is the real reality, it reminds me of The Mathenauts. And, in the sense that it shows mathematical discoveries changing the nature or reality, it reminds me of Unreasonable Effectiveness. (And, of course, occupying other people's minds always makes me think of Being John Malkovich.)

But, this book is certainly not a copy of any of those. As the quote on the cover claims, "Not only will you have a great time reading this book, but you will finish it a cleverer person than when you started."

Warning: In case you are considering assigning this book to students to read, you should be aware that some of it may be perceived as being offensive to some readers. There is certainly lots of explicit language as well as explicit (and occasionally violent) sex. Moreover, the idea that God (and gods) are not our creators, but entities without power in "the real world" that come into existence when we pray to them is an idea which may offend readers depending on their own religious beliefs and open-mindedness.

Contributed by SF Fan

I liked this book alright but, the last page rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe the author doesn't read much science fiction herself. But, if she knew what a cliche that ending is, she would have done something else with it.

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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 End of Mr. Y
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  2. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
  3. The Ultimate Analysis by John Russell Fearn
  4. Mathematica by John Russell Fearn
  5. Mathematica Plus by John Russell Fearn
  6. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  7. Empire of the Ants by Bernard Werber
  8. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  9. The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers
  10. Lucy and David and the God Equation by Alan McKenzie
Ratings for The End of Mr. Y:
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:
2/5 (4 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
3.25/5 (4 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAcademia, Higher/Lower Dimensions, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful, Romance,
Topic
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)