MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Post-Bombum [aka Post-Boomboom] (1967)
Alberto Vanasco
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Argentinian author and math professor Alberto Vanasco wrote this short story about post-apocalyptic survivors trying to record keys to civilization, and failing miserably. (Thanks to Vijay Fafat for bringing it to my attention.)

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

This story reminded me of Feynman's question: if there is one single sentence you could pass on to post-holocaust survivors, what would it be? ("The world is made of atoms" was his answer. For Math, a single sentence might be difficult but would we select a pithy paragraph about Calculus? complex numbers? consistency of diffferent types of geometries? ). It was figuratively reminiscent of a story by Frederic Brown, I think, which effectively captured the idea that even if you found a time traveller from some distant future, it might not help you advance your technology since the average person is quite ignorant of most of the stuff around him/her so that the visitor from the future would have no idea how his time machine or the various gizmos of his era functioned.

So there is this massive atomic war which leaves just a few humans and their mutant children around and they decide to salvage as much of their knowledge as possible. Of course, since they recall only rudimentary fragments of knowledge like most common men do, they make a mess of creating this knowledge-base through funny Chinese whisper. As they discuss mathematics, one of them recalls the Pythagorean theorem as follows:

(quoted from Post-Bombum [aka Post-Boomboom])

"Who knows something about Geometry?"

"The Pythagorean Theorem", said Silva, whose one eye now shone with energy.

"What's that?"

"It's a way to measure the sides of a triangle. Listen, it goes more or less like this: the sum of the sides is equal to the hypotenuse.". He took a knife and drew a right triangle on the ground. "You see? It means this side is equal to the sum of these other two"

"But those aren't the same!"

"Apparently, no, but mathematically, yes". That's why Pythagoras had to prove it"

It quite encapsulated for me the general feeling students have when they don't understand a proof - "this makes no sense so it is not really true, it is just a mathematical proof."

The story ends with a nice example of Richard Guy's law of small numbers:

(quoted from Post-Bombum [aka Post-Boomboom])

The square of two is four. Therefore, in order to find the square of a number, multiply it by two. For example, the square of 8 is 16, of 12 is 24, of 24 is 48...."

Originally published in the author's collection Adios MaƱana (1967) under the title Post-Bombum, an English translation called Post-Boomboom appeared in the anthology Cosmos Latinos (of sf by Latin American authors) which is now available from GoogleBooks.

More information about this work can be found at books.google.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 Post-Bombum [aka Post-Boomboom]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Four Brands of Impossible by Norman Kagan
  2. Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
  3. Getaway from Getawehi by Colin Kapp
  4. Dude, can you count? by Christian Constanda
  5. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  6. The Holmes-Ginsbook Device by Isaac Asimov
  7. The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
  8. The Tale of the Big Computer (aka The End of Man?) by Hannes Alfven (writing as Olof Johannesson)
  9. Narrow Valley by R.A. Lafferty
  10. The Pacifist by Arthur C. Clarke
Ratings for Post-Bombum [aka Post-Boomboom]:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifMath Education,
Topic
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)