a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

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
(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 Geometry of Narrative
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Nullstellen by Dietmar Dath
  2. Stranger than Fiction by Marc Forster (Director) / Zach Helm (Screenplay)
  3. Arcadia by Iain Pears
  4. Art Thou Mathematics? by Charles Mobbs
  5. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  6. A Subway Named Moebius by A.J. Deutsch
  7. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  8. Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer
  9. The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
  10. Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan
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,

Home All New Browse Search About

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)