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Math Takes a Holiday (2001)
Paul Di Filippo
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

Saint Hubert and Saint Barbara, the two patron saints of mathematics, pay a visit to a devout Catholic mathematics professor who has been praying for a mathematical miracle to silence his mockers. He gets what he wished for, but isn't so sure it was a good idea.

First appeared in The Mammoth Book of Awesome Comic Fantasy and was reprinted in Neutrino Drag.

Now, those of you are inclined to read the story based on W.E.Emba's description should go ahead and do so before continuing on to my further analysis below.

For everyone else, let me begin by saying that the tension between "pure" and "applied" math is a major theme in this story. The mathematician character is one of those pure mathematicians who deplores the idea that math might have any applications. [To be honest, I must admit that some mathematicians with this viewpoint do exist. G.H. Hardy is a famous example. However, for those who do not know many actual mathematicians, I would like to add that this is honestly a minority viewpoint. There are more mathematicians out there who either are neutral or who really appreciate it when math finds applications. And, of course, there are those at the other extreme who consider themselves applied mathematicians and despise math when it is "pure".]

However, it is not because of this attitude that the character is mocked by his colleagues. The non-mathematicians in the story seem to truly appreciate that his research on n-dimensional manifolds is impressive and perhaps deserving of a Fields medal. It is his religious belief in a strong connection between his Catholicism and mathematics, on the other hand, which results in his being teased. And this is why the saints, armed with the ability to apply mathematical results to change the nature of reality, arrive to help him.

Among the mathematics discussed in the story are higher dimensional geometry, fractal geometry (mentioning the name of Mandelbrot), chaos theory (mentioning a paper by Stephen Smale), Fermat's Last Theorem and the briefest mention of Banach-Tarski and conformal mappings. In addition, the name "Rudy Rucker" is dropped along with the suggestion that he will win a Nobel prize in literature.

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Works Similar to Math Takes a Holiday
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Fermat's Last Tango by Joanne Sydney Lessner / Joshua Rosenblum
  2. Chronicles of a Comer by K.M O'Donnell (aka Barry N. Malzberg)
  3. Luck be a Lady by Dean Wesley Smith
  4. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
  5. Flatterland: like Flatland, only more so by Ian Stewart
  6. An Angel of Obedience by John Giessmann
  7. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
  8. Pieces of Pi by David Bartell
  9. Numbercruncher by Si Spurrier (writer) / PJ Holden (artist)
  10. The Devil and Simon Flagg by Arthur Porges
Ratings for Math Takes a Holiday:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Fantasy,
MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Higher/Lower Dimensions, Math as Cold/Dry/Useless, Romance, Religion,
TopicAnalysis/Calculus/Differential, Real Mathematics, Chaos/Fractals,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)