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The Four-Color Problem (1971)
Barrington J. Bayley
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

A story written in a psychedelic, stream-of-consciousness style a la William S. Burroughs concerning the discovery of previously unknown countries on the Earth whose existence provides a counter-example to the Four-Color Theorem. The idea that there might be these other countries in some tangential direction and that this would be topologically interesting was apparently inspired by the fact that at the time the story was written there was a proof that any map could be colored with five colors but no proof of the full Four-Color theorem. The many references to sex, the idea that mathematicians have taken over the government, and the inclusion of seemingly non-fictional lectures and footnotes make this story quite strange. Now that the theorem has been proved (at least to the satisfaction of most mathematicians, despite the involvement of a computer to check some cases), the story is all the more bizarre.

(quoted from The Four-Color Problem)

The maths men were already adept at taking over the nation like the SS used to take over -- the reasons and methods were the same -- Weltanschauung -- Belief in correctness of technique -- Professor M.M. was putting infants in sealed metal chambers and irradiating them with alien equations -- They started by running the economy -- Look they said economics should be left to us not to untrained psychotics -- You have to align the growth vectors -- Forumlas and differential equations a mile long put them through logic units look we got pulse trains a light year long -- Dynamic topology -- Structural morphology -- Soon there was nothing in the White House but a big computer with direct lines to MIT and Caltech -- The president sits hypnotized by a stroboscope -- MIT and Caltech start fighting it out they got different ideas see they send the electronic word war streaming through respective landlines -- Hostile pulse trains content in White House computer while Soviet satellite is beaming subversive equations of surplus value to confuse the parameters -- The technician spoke out of the corner of his moutn -- ``Don't let the computer cotton on to those Marxist surplus value pulse trains from outside the ecliptic'' -- He picked up a bucket of water and threw it over the consoles to cool them down -- Steam drifted through the white rooms -- Outside the city continuous explosions of lifting Moon rocket washes over the suburbs fluttering flags -- ``Those outer space vectors sure pack a punch'' --

Look they said exploit new lands according to precise formula otherwise returns are not maximized. We know formula have trained forebrain will travel. But once installe in SAC Mission Control they puruse their own interest and convert the whole f***ing issue into a word-spanning trillion-dollar exercise in abstract mathematics.

Originally published in New Worlds Quarterly 2, ed. Michael Moorcock, London: Sphere 1971 (although it is sometimes called ``The Four-Colour Theorem''), it can now be read for free at Google Books.

Thanks to Vijay Fafat for bringing this unusual story to my attention.

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 The Four-Color Problem
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Nymphomation by Jeff Noon
  2. White Light, or What is Cantor's Continuum Problem? by Rudy Rucker
  3. The Island of Five Colors by Martin Gardner
  4. The Girl with the Celestial Limb by Pauline Melville
  5. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
  6. The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
  7. Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino
  8. The Gold at Starbow's End (aka Starburst / aka Alpha Aleph) by Frederik Pohl
  9. Normed Trek by Harun Šiljak
  10. Narrow Valley by R.A. Lafferty
Ratings for The Four-Color Problem:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Real Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)