MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (Episode: The Truth about Pyecraft) (2001)
Chris Harrald (Script) / Clive Exton (Script) / Herbert George Wells (story)
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
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Please correct me if I'm mistaken here, but it seems that the 2001 TV miniseries The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells took the story ``The Truth about Pyecraft'', which has no math in it, and made the main character into a mathematician. In the original story, a man takes a potion which he hopes will solve his obesity problem, only to discover that it makes him weightless but exactly the same size as before. Added to the TV adaptation are several mathematical references, including the old joke about the paradox of finding the smallest uninteresting natural number, his presentation on `Simplicity in Mathematics' at a competition for the Mobius Prize, and a cameo appearance by Albert Einstein. They are nicely summarized at Burkard Polster and Marty Ross's QEDCat.com page.

During Pyecraft's lecture on `Simplicity in Mathematics', he simply erases portions of the formulas on the blackboard which were left by the previous speaker, provoking excited shouts of "A revolution in probability theory" and "Asteroid Dynamics will never be the same" from the audience. They seem suitably impressed, but he does not win the prize. Instead, he is offered on the spot the professorial chair that was left vacant by the death of Isaac Newton 179 years earlier! In reality, as far as I know, Newton held no chair at all at Oxford, and his chair at Cambridge has been occupied, but I guess the point is to show how absolutely brilliant Pyecraft's lecture was. Another "over the top" demonstration of his brilliance is the claim, made by Wells at a dance party, that Pyecraft came up with 3 proofs of the Riemann Hypothesis when he was just 15 years old. Seeing as nobody of any age has been able to come up with even one proof so far, this is quite an achievement!

Another mathematical aspect of this episode is that Pyecraft is teaching differential equations to a serving maid who has mathematical talent. Both he and the maid fantasize about being romantically involved with the other, but believe that it would be impossible (because of his size and her social status). With these in mind, I've checked the boxes for "anti-social mathematicians" below (even though it is because of his weight and not because of his mathematical ability that Pyecraft seems to avoid social situations) and `female mathematicians' (even though she is really only a student of mathematics).

Later in the same episode (but during a different story), a biologist wishes to come up with a formula to help him figure out which of his many bacteria samples was stolen by a terrorist. His assistant stops him by pointing out that it would be Diophantine and therefore unsolvable. This seems unlikely (both that it would be Diophantine and that it would be unsolvable), but shows that the authors were still thinking about mathematics.

More information about this work can be found at www.qedcat.com.
(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 Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (Episode: The Truth about Pyecraft)
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Jack and the Aktuals, or, Physical Applications of Transfinite Set Theory by Rudy Rucker
  2. Numbercruncher by Si Spurrier (writer) / PJ Holden (artist)
  3. Monday Begins on Saturday by Arkady Strugatsky / Boris Strugatsky
  4. Mother's Milk by Andrew Thomas Breslin
  5. A Very Good Year by Jack C. Haldeman (II)
  6. The Devil You Don't by Keith Laumer
  7. The Mathematics of Magic by L. Sprague de Camp / Fletcher Pratt
  8. Math Takes a Holiday by Paul Di Filippo
  9. The Girl with the Celestial Limb by Pauline Melville
  10. Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker
Ratings for The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (Episode: The Truth about Pyecraft):
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:
4/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHumorous, Science Fiction, Fantasy,
MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Female Mathematicians, Romance,
Topic
MediumTelevision Series or Episode,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)