MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Kandelman's Krim: A Realistic Fantasy (1957)
John Lighton Synge
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Thanks for Tony Vance for pointing out to me that this novel by mathematical physicist J.L. Synge should be included in my database. It is difficult to find now, but it is clear that at the time of its publication it was an influential bit of mathematical fiction, read by and commented on by all the right people. It takes the form of a philosophical discussion between a goddess, a unicorn, an orc, a kea and a plumber. The title refers to a certain magical tea potion that they drink that is supposed to improve the clarity of their thoughts. Mathematics is always at the forefront of the discussion and religion always hiding behind it.

Personally, I preferred the long preface to the rest of the book. In the preface, Synge discusses religion, the philosophy of math, and his ancestor Hugh Hamilton, in a more explicit and entirely non-fictional manner. For me this was both more enlightening and more enjoyable than the fantastical body of the text.

Mathematical topics receiving special attention are the binary number system, complex numbers, irrational numbers, axiomatic geometry and infinity. Those knowledgeable in mathematics are not likely to see much here they do not already know, and I fear that the author may have been too optimistic in thinking that those less knowledgeable would be interested in reading fantastical creatures debate whether the use of Fourier series to represent a telephone signal truly justifies the concept of infinity or whether the concept of a convergent series applies to wisdom, power and mercy.

Here is an example of the text, in which the plumber clearly represents a person who uses math, but may not benefit from its more theoretical attributes:

(quoted from Kandelman's Krim: A Realistic Fantasy)

"I'm going home," objected the Kea in a petulant tone. "Pipes, indeed! I don't think we ought to have the Plumber here at all. He lowers the intellectual tone of the gathering."

"Do not be hasty," said the Unicorn mildly. "The Plumber is a man in a million, both for what he says and what he does not say. Perhaps what he did not say escaped you. Yet it was significant. He did not say that he measured the circumferences of the pipes and I feel that the omission was not accidental."

"When I was an apprentice" said the Plumber diffidently, "used to. But I was very young then, not old enough to value what I had learned at school about π. It is now an accepted fact among plumbers, a fact impressed on all apprentices, that the circumference of a pipe is found by multiplying the diameter by π."

"This gets really interesting!" cried the Orc. "Lady, are you awake?" he called to the blue Goddess. "You must not miss this. The Plumber is going to tell us how he multiplies the diameter of a pipe by π."

"I am sorry," said the Plumber blushing, "to have raised your expectations. As a member of this group, I am of course perfectly well aware of the irrationality of π, but on the job, π is 3 1/7, or 3 if I am in a hurry."

"I knew he would let us down," screamed the Kea. "Bringing his dirty plumbing into our intellectual affairs! 3 1/7 indeed, or 3 if he is in a hurry!"

Contributed by Bill Higgins

One of my professors studied under the Irish mathematician John Lighton Synge. He was a nephew of the playwright John Milton Synge (*Playboy of the Western World*).

I'm not familiar with the book, but here are some people commenting on it.

Reading these, you can return to the Google Books page for *KK* and start searching for words like these:

plumber, goddess, blue, sky-blue, unicorn, kea, orc, passion, sex, arithmetic, moonlit, theorem

These will reveal different snippets of the novel, which might point to enlightenment.

Some quotes from the book:

(quoted from Kandelman's Krim: A Realistic Fantasy)

"Beside the actual universe I can set in imagination other universes in which the laws are different."

"The northern ocean is beautiful, and beautiful the delicate intricacy of the snowflake before it melts and perishes, but such beauties are as nothing to him who delights in numbers, spurning alike the wild irrationality of life and baffling complexity of nature's laws."

I also found a remark by Prof. Synge about the book in a Trinity College publication called *Hermathena*, and assembled fragments of it by means of iterative Dead Sea Googling:

"And secondly, since I am about to accost the ordinary man and the intellectual, I may remark that in a recent book, Kandelman's Krim, I depict in my own oblique way the ordinary man and the intellectual. The ordinary man is a simple Plumber. The intellectual, being by his nature inhuman, appears as an Orc-- it was only after the book came out that I realized that many people did not know what an Orc was and were so lazy that they would read the book without going to a dictionary to find out what I thought every cross-word-puzzle fan knew."

Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.com. Amazon.com logo
(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 Kandelman's Krim: A Realistic Fantasy
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Mathematician’s Nightmare: The Vision of Professor Squarepunt by Bertrand Russell
  2. Lost in Lexicon: An Adventure in Words and Numbers by Pendred Noyce
  3. The Parrot's Theorem by Denis Guedj
  4. The Gnome and the Pearl of Wisdom: A Fable by Richard Willmott
  5. Three Days in Karlikania by Vladimir Levshin
  6. The Number Devil (Der Zahlenteufel) by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
  7. Journey into Geometries by Marta Sved
  8. Harvey Plotter and the Circle of Irrationality by Nathan Carter / Dan Kalman
  9. Flatterland: like Flatland, only more so by Ian Stewart
  10. The Rose Acacia by Ralph P. Boas,~Jr.
Ratings for Kandelman's Krim: A Realistic Fantasy:
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:
5/5 (2 votes)
.
Literary Quality:
2/5 (2 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreFantasy, Didactic,
Motif
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Infinity, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumNovels,

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Your Help Needed: Some site visitors remember reading works of mathematical fiction that neither they nor I can identify. It is time to crowdsource this problem and ask for your help! You would help a neighbor find a missing pet...can't you also help a fellow site visitor find some missing works of mathematical fiction? Please take a look and let us know if you have seen these missing stories anywhere!.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)