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Maths on a Plane (2008)

This story, about a student flirting with the attractive woman in the seat next to him on a plane, won the student category of the 2008 New Writers Award from Cambridge University's ``Plus+ Magazine''. According to an e-mail message I received from the author (who has asked that I use only his initials on this Website):

Contributed by PT

"Maths on a Plane" is a literary work which tries to combine the volatile genres of mathematical fiction with the guilty pleasures of bloke-lit.

As a mathematician who also happens to be a ``bloke'', I must say that the attempt was quite successful. (With luck, this story will have the effect of making discussions of nonlinear partial differential equations an essential part of any flirtatious encounter!)

In the story, Jeff assures Rhea that there is nothing to worry about. But, that is precisely what worries Rhea: ``nothing is what's stopping us from plummeting, oh I dunno, twenty-thousand feet to the ground''.

(quoted from Maths on a Plane)

"So Rhea, today, aerodynamics, all this —," I gestured out the window, "All this — is grounded in solid, rigorous mathematics. It's not nothingness that's holding us up. It's maths."

"Maths," she repeated disinterestedly, "I'm not very good at maths."

"You don't have to be," I replied softly.

She picked up the Cosmo magazine from her lap and froze for what seemed like ages. Then, seeming to have made a decision, she placed it in the pouch before her and leaned back in her seat, sighing. "Okay," she said, nodding, "Let's talk."

Jeff even goes so far as to use napkins to write out the Navier-Stokes equations, and these scribbles are reproduced as part of the story -- a really nice touch, I think.

By coincidence, I also wrote a story which included conversations between a math student and the attractive woman sitting next to him on a plane (see Reality Conditions). However, the romance in mine did not work out quite so well.

I'm a bit embarassed to admit that I'm giving this story a relatively low rating for ``literary quality''. This really is not because I think it is poorly written. In fact, I hope that PT (who wrote the story while a doctoral student at Oxford) writes more mathematical fiction in the future! However, I suppose this reflects on my opinion of (or prejudice against) what the author calls ``bloke-lit'. If you disagree, please do feel free to use the link below to enter your own ratings.

More information about this work can be found at
(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 Maths on a Plane
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Reality Conditions by Alex Kasman
  2. Problems for Self-Study by Charles Yu
  3. What Are the Odds? by Justin Spitzer (writer) / Matthew Tritt (director)
  4. Towel Season by Ron Carlson
  5. Kavanagh by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  6. Reading by Numbers by Aidan Doyle
  7. The Givenchy Code by Julie Kenner
  8. Book of Knut: a novel by Knut Knudson by Halvor Aakhus
  9. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  10. Letters to a Young Mathematician by Ian Stewart
Ratings for Maths on a Plane:
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:
4/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

MotifMath as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful, Romance,
TopicAnalysis/Calculus/Differential, Mathematical Physics, Real Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)