MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Snow (1998)
Geoffrey A. Landis
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
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An apparently schizophrenic, homeless woman sells her body to get herself and her infant off the street on a cold night. Only at the end of this extremely short story do we realize that the imaginary world of "crysalline beauty" that she sometimes loses herself in is not part of her delusions, but mathematics itself:

(quoted from Snow)

She took out the first envelope, and carefully spread it open. Her other world was very close, the world that she created out of herself. She knew that somewhere, somewhere out in the world there were other people who knew how to enter that other world. Sometimes she wondered if she had ever met any of them. but, she decided that really didn't matter. What mattered was that other world.

She checked once more that Christie was sleeping soundly, and then, writing in almost invisibly tiny script, she started.

"Theorem 431. Consider the set of non-singular connections mapping an 8-dimensional vector space onto a differentiable Hausdorff manifold..."

I really like this story. It is beautifully written. I'm sorry that I basically have to give away the punchline in this review, but I did not see a way to summarize it without mentioning this point since otherwise it is simply about a homeless woman. I'm also sorry that I have to complain about it.

Clearly, Landis knows a lot about math and science. I mean, he's actually a physicist when he's not writing fiction. But, there are a few things here that bug me. I am always bothered a bit when I see the stereotype of the insane mathematician in fiction since I think this distorts the public perception of what mathematicians are really like. Similarly, the stereotype of the isolated mathematician is utilized here. The former stereotype here is at least believable (though I do not believe there is a correlation between math and insanity, of course there must be simply by chance some people who are both), but the latter here is a bit ridiculous. This is not the sort of mathematics that one can do in complete isolation.

I suppose it is not a big deal, but her reference to a connection does not make sense as she writes it. (A connection should be a map between the tangent spaces, or some other fiber bundle, at two points on the manifold and not a map from a vector space to the manifold.) Another similarly unimportant point is this: why does he say that the vector field of the falling snow is divergence-free? I would expect the wind blowing between buildings to result in pressure changes from point to point.

Originally published in Starlight 2 (Tor, 1998) it was republished in the anthology Impact Parameter.

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Works Similar to Snow
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Mathematics of Nina Gluckstein by Esther Vilar
  2. Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer
  3. Proof by David Auburn (playwright)
  4. Approaching Perimelasma by Geoffrey A. Landis
  5. Ouroboros by Geoffrey A. Landis
  6. Ripples in the Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis
  7. Leaning Towards Infinity by Sue Woolfe
  8. The Bishop Murder Case by S.S. van Dine (pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright)
  9. The Embalmer's Book of Recipes by Ann Lingard
  10. Antonia's Line by Marleen Gorris
Ratings for Snow:
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:
5/5 (1 votes)
.

Categories:
Genre
MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Insanity, Female Mathematicians,
Topic
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)