a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Hole in the Paper Sky (2008)
Howard Kingkade (Screenplay) / Bill Purple (Director)

An anti-social mathematics graduate student is forced to take a job in his university's psychology department where he gets to know a dog used for laboratory experiments. In risking all to save the dog, his character changes and becomes more "human".

I believe this is yet another instance of a character being written as a mathematician precisely because of the stereotype that people who are interested in mathematics are not fully human. Just as Pi and Good Will Hunting are films which seem to be based on the false dichotomy between humanity and mathematics, this appears to be another one. I say "false", because 99.9% of the mathematicians I know are outgoing, kind, caring, friendly people very much unlike the monsters commonly portrayed in fiction...and I say "appears" because I have to admit I have not actually seen this film.

But, consider the following descriptions from people who have:

"Howard Ferp is a brilliant, misanthropic mathematics doctoral candidate.....Howard risks everything he thought important to save the animal and, in doing so, discovers his humanity." -- IMDB

"Jason Clarke stars as Howard, a "perpetual student" at an unnamed university, a misanthropic math whiz and chess buff whose contempt for the world oozes out of every anti-social pore. He doesn't suffer fools gladly, and in his eyes, that includes pretty much everyone, especially the old coot (Garry Marshall) who offers him no real competition in a chess tournament....Purple's film (he co-wrote the script) has a dog do what dogs do — make this inhuman jerk more human." -- Orlando Sentinel

Perhaps I'm over-reacting. I mean, certainly there are anti-social jerks, and some of them are mathematicians. The appearance of any one such character in a work of fiction is not an indication of any societal prejudice. However, this appears to happen so often that I am convinced that authors think "Well, I want the character to be horrible, barely human...I know, I'll make him a mathematician!". And, the reason this concerns me is that it would seem to lead to people I meet thinking "OMG...he must be horrible and barely human!" when I introduce myself as a mathematician. Just like any other prejudice, it can be worsened or even created whole-cloth through fictional portrayals.

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(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Hole in the Paper Sky
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Infinitely Near by Anthony Cristiano
  2. Antonia's Line by Marleen Gorris
  3. Good Will Hunting by Gus Van Sant (director) / Matt Damon (Screenplay)
  4. Killing Time by Frank Tallis
  5. Pi by Darren Aronofsky (director)
  6. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
  7. The Solitude of Prime Numbers [La Solitudine dei Numeri Primi] by Paolo Giordano
  8. Orpheus Lost: A Novel by Janette Turner Hospital
  9. The Axiom of Choice by David Corbett
  10. Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby
Ratings for Hole in the Paper Sky:
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MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)