a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Mathematica (1936)
John Russell Fearn
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Using a strange metal which gives them the power to change reality with their thoughts, two humans either summon or create an alien who explains to them that reality is mathematics. Together, they seek out and find the ultimate mathematician who created everything.

Unfortunately, the author's knowledge of science and math (and his writing ability) do not quite live up to the grandiose themes that this story and its sequel, Mathematica Plus, attempt to address. All of the mathematics discussed is essentially arithmetic and using the word "electron" seems to be all he can do to sound scientific. For instance, the machine which travels between universes is said to do so by "subtraction", and beings are immortal if they are built up of "uncancellable figures". Lester del Rey seemed to agree with this assessment back in 1936 when he wrote:

"[Mathematica Plus] was pseudo-mathematics, fiction, and hokum. Its appeal lay in a trick of using grand-sounding phrases and vague hints which orators have used to thrill the masses since Greece, but this time they were given a semi-mathematical form. Analyze most of it, and it means nothing...he does a good job of it too, and I enjoy his tricks thoroughly."

I must beg to differ with that last remark, however. I remained unimpressed and unentertained throughout. Perhaps they have simply not aged well. In the decades since this was written, others have written about similar ideas much more successfully, IMHO.

Both of the Mathematica stories appeared in Astounding Stories in 1936. They were reprinted in 2001 in The Best of John Russell Fearn Volume One edited by Philip Harbottle, which includes a nice cover painting by Ron Turner inspired by Mathematica.

NB One of the best selling computer algebra packages available today is called Mathematica. So far as I know, there is no direct connection between that and the title of this story. (But, perhaps I am mistaken. Is Steve Wolfram a big fan of JR Fearn?)

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Works Similar to Mathematica
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Mathematica Plus by John Russell Fearn
  2. The Ultimate Analysis by John Russell Fearn
  3. Luminous by Greg Egan
  4. Doctor Who: The Algebra of Ice by Lloyd Rose (pseudonym of Sarah Tonyn)
  5. Planck Time by Michael Iwoleit
  6. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
  7. Spherical Harmonic by Catherine Asaro
  8. Distress by Greg Egan
  9. Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan
  10. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
Ratings for Mathematica:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
1/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAliens, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)