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Vanishing Point (1959)
C.C. Beck

Contributed by "Vijay Fafat"

The short story is another take on the true nature of reality and one man's quest to unmask it. It is more an idea piece than a full-fledged development. An artist, Carter, who is a trained mathematician as well, firmly believes that reality has more than 3 dimensions and just as the artistic technique of using vanishing points allows a 2-D representation of 3-D scenes, our reality is a perspecctive projection of a higher reality. The author captures the dichotomous views on the nature of reality in Carter's words: "the scientists and philosophers who say reality is forever unreachable, or the artists who say there isn't any reality—that we make the whole thing up to suit ourselves.". He finally builds a tesseractic "perspective machine" which allows the viewer to preceive true Reality and realises that he has "created a hole in the fabric of illusion". The story ends with a caretaker noting that the central cube in the machine - the inner cube in the standard tesseract projection - has started increasing in size (the implication is that the outer Reality will start obliterating our own and indeed, our own thoughts in this mattter will shape and affect that change-over). Some mathematical jargon is thrown in as well in the caretaker's account of the whole affair:

(quoted from Vanishing Point)

Here's the square root sign, I remember Carter telling me that. This one is the Tangent Function, whatever that means. Log, there, is short for logarithm. Oh, he had a bunch of that scientific stuff in his head all the time; dunno whether he understood it all himself. He built this thing just before he put together the perspective machine there.

There is a nice bit of metaphysical musing as well by Carter:

(quoted from Vanishing Point)

"I'll have the answer to a question that may never have been answered before: what is reality? Is the world a thing by itself, and all we know illusion? Why do things grow smaller the farther away from us they appear? Why can't we see more than one side of anything at a time? What happens to the far side of an object; does it cease to exist just because we can't see it? Are objects not present nonexistent? Because artists draw things vanishing to points, does that mean that they really vanish?"

First published in the July 1959 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.

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Works Similar to Vanishing Point
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Moebius Room by Robert Donald Locke
  2. Project Flatty by Irving Cox Jr.
  3. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  4. Into the Fourth by Adam Hull Shirk
  5. Problem in Geometry by T.P. Caravan
  6. Gold Dust and Star Dust by Cyrill Wates
  7. A Modern Comedy of Science by Issac Nathanson
  8. The Mobius Trail by George Smith
  9. The Professor's Experiments - The Dimension of Time by Paul Bold
  10. Through the Black Board by Joel Rogers
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GenreScience Fiction,
MotifHigher/Lower Dimensions,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)