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Against the Day (2006)
Thomas Pynchon
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

This novel, set in the time frame 1890s to 1920s interleaves several plots and styles, from boys' adventures to peacetime spies to gunslingers' revenges. The forces of progress stomp over all the little fellow, and the little fellow fights back. Scientific breakthroughs promise great gains for humanity and ever more terrible weaponry. Uncanny echoes of today's big issues, whether the Internet or the War on Terrorism, abound.

Mathematics is dense throughout the novel. The conflict between vectors and quaternions is practically a subplot of its own. Two major characters, Kit Traverse and Yashmeen Halfcourt, are mathematics students. Frequent allusions, and sometimes longer discussions, concern the Riemann zeta function. Most famous mathematicians of the nineteenth and early twentieth century are mentioned, and some, like Gibbs and Hilbert, even get a cameo. Two of the silly songs are about mathematics. ("Geniuses" is rhymed with "Frobeniuses").

All in all, Against the Day is a staggering achievement--Pynchon has basically out-Pynchoned himself.

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Works Similar to Against the Day
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Weight of Numbers by Simon Ings
  2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  3. The Coincidence Engine by Sam Leith
  4. Quicksilver: The Baroque Cycle Volume 1 by Neal Stephenson
  5. The Jester and the Mathematician by Alan R. Gordon
  6. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  7. Fermat's Last Tango by Joanne Sydney Lessner / Joshua Rosenblum
  8. Continuums by Robert Carr
  9. War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
  10. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Ratings for Against the Day:
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:
3.4/5 (5 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.2/5 (5 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Humorous,
MotifReal Mathematicians,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Real Mathematics,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)