MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Living Equation (1934)
Nathan Schachner
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A mathematician invents a machine that provides abstract mathematical objects ("vectors" and "tensors") a certain reality. His goal is to allow them not to solve equations but to create new ones. However, before he works out exactly the settings he wants to put in the machine, it is started inadvertently by a burglar and the lawyer guest he has staying at his house, with disastrous consequences (e.g. buildings move, or vanish filled with people who find themselves in a place without recognizable dimension, time scales change in different parts of the universe, land masses disappear and swallow oceans, etc.)

Reading this story reminds me of many other works of mathematical fiction. It presents the idea that true reality is mathematics while what we consider the physical universe is just an illusion (as do Mathenauts and Luminous). The story also suggests that mathematical discoveries can change reality (as do Unreasonable Effectiveness and Distress).

However, it is remarkable that this story does all of that and was written in 1934! In 2009 (as I write this), the description of this machine that can do mathematics and what it can achieve seems quaintly old-fashioned, but for a story written before the invention of anything we today would call a computer, it is quite impressive.

Originally published in Astounding Stories, September 1934. (Thanks to Fred Galvin for providing me with a readable copy of this old classic.)

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

[Vijay writes to say that Paul McAuley's novel Eternal Light (1993) has similar themes, but may not deserve its own separate listing here. In particular, he says]: This hard-SF novel describes a million-year old war between the survivors of an ancient civilization and the "marauders"; caught in the cross-fire are all the budding civilizations in the galaxy [Fermi's paradox is given special treatment in the novel]. And then there are the "Angels" - enigmatic, transcendental beings who want to stop the marauders from using the Angel-technology left behind in the corporeal universe since the technology enables "contginuous creation", the art of creating new matter using energy siphoned off from other universes of the multiverse. Their weapon of choice for this? Mathematics, of course. Here're some descriptions of these weapons (quite reminsicent of the language in Schachner's "The Living Equation"):

“[The weapons were] a little like the infolded dimensionless webs which had wrapped suns before they had flared, stuff that intersected at odd angles with the familiar dimensions of the quotidian universe, weapons stripped down to pure mathematics, idea become word become deed…[…] the abstract weapon of the angels”

“I wish I knew more about the weapon they gave you. Always I have dreamed of being able to see an equation…” [The weapon looks] like burning diamond dust. Like Light. […] The ultimate machine, a mathematical equation that operates on the virtual universe.”

More information about this work can be found at www.isfdb.org.
(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 The Living Equation
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Distress by Greg Egan
  2. WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer
  3. Doctor Who: The Algebra of Ice by Lloyd Rose (pseudonym of Sarah Tonyn)
  4. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  5. Luminous by Greg Egan
  6. Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy
  7. Aleph Sub One by Margaret St.~Clair
  8. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
  9. Monster's Proof by Richard Lewis
  10. The Eternal Wanderer by Nathan Schachner
Ratings for The Living Equation:
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:
4/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreScience Fiction,
Motif
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Mathematical Physics,
MediumShort Stories,

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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)