a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Quanto scommettiamo ("How much do you want to bet?") (1965)
Italo Calvino
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Lapo Fanciullo

The story is about two beings, living since the beginning of the universe (one of them, the protagonist of the book, is "old Qfwfq" - it's not a misprint -, a mysterious being that claims to have witnessed all the main events in the history of Universe and Earth) who make bets on the future evolution of the universe to pass time. They start betting about whether atoms will form or not, or how much stars will grow before stabilizing, and end up betting on the minutest events, such as what turn a woman will take walking on a street (all this before the woman is even born, or Earth formed!).

The mathematics this should take is never mentioned if not en passant (at the end of the tale the two beings live among humans and it's briefly mentioned they use computers to make their calculations), but the story is a reflection on finding a pattern in the universe and how this pattern seemingly degenerates again into chaos when the amount of information is too high to visualize.

Furthermore, a humorous idea proposed is that numbers were invented (or evolved) little by little, and "user-friendly" numbers such as integers were the last to appear: A quel tempo, di numeri ce n'erano soltanto due: il numero e e il numero pi greco. ("At that time there were only two numbers: e and pi").

Originally published in Le cosmicomiche, in 1965.

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Works Similar to Quanto scommettiamo ("How much do you want to bet?")
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Ms Fnd in a Lbry by Hal Draper
  2. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  3. The Indefatigable Frog by Philip K. Dick
  4. Flower Arrangement by Rosel George Brown
  5. The Snowball Effect by Katherine Maclean
  6. The Higher Mathematics by Martin C. Wodehouse
  7. Another Cock Tale by Chris Miller
  8. Message Found in a Copy of Flatland by Rudy Rucker
  9. The Holmes-Ginsbook Device by Isaac Asimov
  10. The Pacifist by Arthur C. Clarke
Ratings for Quanto scommettiamo ("How much do you want to bet?"):
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:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)