MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
Kim Stanley Robinson
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Contributed by "William E. Emba"

This alternative history is based on the assumption that the Great Plague of the 1300s that decimated Europe's population was much worse, and that it in fact led to the extinction of almost all of Europe. It is not at all plausible as history, just from that single premise: Robinson readily transfers developments from Europe to Asia, despite the fact that nothing close to those developments happened spontaneously in our own history during the long centuries when Europeans were minimally in contact with Asians.

The novel is told in ten parts, spanning about eight centuries. Each part stars two major characters, whose names always begin with K and B, along with some important minor characters, whose initials are similarly echoed across the chapters. Most parts concern a key development, but usually things go all wrong and everyone dies and they have to be reincarnated and try again. The development is often technological, but it is just as often philosophical, with characters striving to create what we think of as 20th century liberalism.

As a result, the book at times is very preachy. Nevertheless, Robinson doesn't mind contradicting himself. The book ends with a liberal modern scientific thinker discussing and rejecting reincarnation, while the reader can't help but notice the recycled souls unaware of their own previous lives.

One of the developments is the invention of analytic geometry and calculus, spelled out in some detail in the fourth part, "The Alchemist".

Contributed by Anonymous

Educational book

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Works Similar to The Years of Rice and Salt
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Pacific Mystery by Stephen Baxter
  2. Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
  3. The Difference Engine by William Gibson / Bruce Sterling
  4. Turbulence by Giles Foden
  5. Newton's Hooke by David Pinner
  6. Calculus (Newton's Whores) by Carl Djerassi
  7. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar / Akiva Goldsman
  8. Life in a Mirror by Daniel Ryan
  9. Verrechnet by Carl Djerassi / Isabella Gregor
  10. Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle Volume 1 by Neal Stephenson
Ratings for The Years of Rice and Salt:
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 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)
.

Categories:
GenreHistorical Fiction,
Motif
TopicAnalysis/Calculus/Differential,
MediumNovels,

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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 Amazon.com 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)