a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Geometry of Narrative (1983)
Hilbert Schenck
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

This story begins with a character who is a graduate student of English proposing to his professor a new geometric approach to literary analysis. As he points out, this has been used to some limited degree in the past: merely the one dimensional geometry of a story as a line segment representing linear passage of time, or the planar graph of the "arc" of the storyline building to a local maximum at the climax. However, in the story, the character proposes applications of higher dimensional geometry (and more complicated topologies as well). In particular, he discusses the role of the tesseract in analyzing Hamlet, and is ready with an example when his professor challenges him to apply the topology of the Möbius strip to literature.

A key concept here is the notion of "narrative distance", which is a measure of how far an element of the story is from the reader. For instance, when "The Murder of Gonzago" is performed by the characters in "Hamlet", this sub-play has a greater narrative distance. (This concept is also applied to Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead", which happens to be listed elsewhere on this site.)

So far, this is not so much a story as a treatise on a novel and possibly interesting application of mathematics to the study of literature. But, things take a very interesting (and necessarily fictional) turn when the author and his daughter are introduced to the reader. The story begins to apply these concepts to itself (meta-literary analysis?), and furthermore to twist them around!

Schenck is a trained engineer as well as an author. I would personally not classify this story as "science fiction" at all, but it was nominated for both Nebula and Hugo awards, so I suppose others must disagree with me on that point! In any case, it is not only an entertaining and well written piece, but also a thought provoking one and well worth reading.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to The Geometry of Narrative
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Stranger than Fiction by Marc Forster (Director) / Zach Helm (Screenplay)
  2. Nullstellen by Dietmar Dath
  3. Art Thou Mathematics? by Charles Mobbs
  4. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  5. A Subway Named Moebius by A.J. Deutsch
  6. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  7. Tigor (aka The Snowflake Constant) by Peter Stephan Jungk
  8. Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan
  9. The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
  10. Message Found in a Copy of Flatland by Rudy Rucker
Ratings for The Geometry of Narrative:
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 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

MotifAcademia, Higher/Lower Dimensions, Mobius Strip/Nonorientability,
MediumShort Stories,

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May 2016: I am experimenting with a new feature which will print a picture of the cover and a link to the page for a work of mathematical fiction when it is available. I hope you find this useful and convenient. In any case, please write to let me know if it is because I would be happy to either get rid of it or improve it if that would be better for you. Thanks! -Alex

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)