a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Axiom of Choice (2009)
David Corbett

An extremely well-crafted short story in which math professor coldly recounts for a detective how the bloody bodies of his wife and his student came to be in his house. It is not really a murder mystery, but rather more of a very somber character study.

According to the professor, the student became obsessed with the Axiom of Choice, an axiom of set theory that allows a mathematician to refer to a set made out of a collection of elements selected from infinitely many other sets. Though this may not sound particularly controversial, it is within mathematics because if assumed it allows one to prove some surprising results and some question whether it is reasonable to assume it. However, so far as I can see, it does not have the philosophical implications regarding free will that the student in the story sees in it. These views lead him into depression and eventually into an affair with the math professor's wife, a musician.

The way the professor recounts the story, everything from his criticism of the students at his small college to his casual acknowledgement of his own extramarital affairs, leads one initially to think that he is unemotional and evil. He even says:

(quoted from The Axiom of Choice)

Now, I can imagine what you're thinking. Anyone who walks away from the scene you discovered in my house, then talks about his sex life, his lack of inhibition, his pleasures -- not to mention set theory and Descartes, for God's sake -- you have to wonder: Is he demented?...I assure you, I am not deranged, nor do I lack a conscience.

In the end, I think his story justifies his claims...but he still seems quite cold and I'm sure that it is not a coincidence that this character trait is linked with a mathematician in the story.

Originally published in The Strand Magazine, XXVII 2009. Thanks to Sandro Caparrini for bringing it to my attention.

(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 Axiom of Choice
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Axiom of Choice by David W. Goldman
  2. Buried Alive at the End of the World by Blair Bourrassa
  3. Homage by Ross Kagan Marks (director) / Mark Medoff (screenplay)
  4. Orpheus Lost: A Novel by Janette Turner Hospital
  5. The Solitude of Prime Numbers [La Solitudine dei Numeri Primi] by Paolo Giordano
  6. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein
  7. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  8. Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda
  9. Zero by Buzz Mauro
  10. The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri by David Bajo
Ratings for The Axiom of Choice:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Music, Romance,
TopicLogic/Set Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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May 2016: I am experimenting with a new feature which will print a picture of the cover and a link to the page for a work of mathematical fiction when it is available. I hope you find this useful and convenient. In any case, please write to let me know if it is because I would be happy to either get rid of it or improve it if that would be better for you. Thanks! -Alex

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)