MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Imaginary Number (1956)
Yizhak Oren
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Contributed by "William E. Emba"

In this peculiar and humorous story, a complete stranger shows up at physicist Benjamin's door, with an imaginary tale of their childhood friendship, marriage to twin sisters, and his deed to certain property from before the war and Israeli statehood, and he asks Benjamin's help to locate it.

Confronted with reality, the imaginary takes a beating and the stranger becomes depressed, while Benjamin and his wife take greater and greater interest in the stanger's imaginary past. With a long historical and philosophical appeal to the mathematical and physical meaning of sqrt(-1), Benjamin convinces a clerk in the appropriate bureaucracy to use imaginary numbers to identify the stranger's imaginary deed, and so make everyone happy.

Everyone, that is, except the higher bureaucrats. Apparently, they have no imagination.

"Oren" is the pseudonym of Israeli author Yitzhak Nadel. This story was first published in Hebrew in 1956 and appeared in English translation as part of his collection of stories published in 1986 also called "The Imaginary Number".

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Works Similar to The Imaginary Number
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. A Fable for Moderns by Lord Dunsany
  2. The Imaginary by Isaac Asimov
  3. Touch the Water, Touch the Wind by Amos Oz
  4. The Cube Root of Conquest by Rog Phillips
  5. The Adding Machine by Elmer Rice
  6. Don Juan oder die Liebe zur Geometrie by Max Frisch
  7. Off Day! by Al Feldstein (writer) / Jack Kamen (artist)
  8. By a Fluke by Arthur Porges
  9. The Devil and Simon Flagg by Arthur Porges
  10. The Sinister Researches of C.P. Ransom by Homer C. Nearing Jr.
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Categories:
GenreHumorous,
Motif
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
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 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)