a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Sorority House (1956)
Jordan Park (Cyril M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl)

Contributed by Benoit Charbonneau

Sorority House is a lesbian pulp novel written in 1956 by Cyril M. Kornbluth (1923-1958) and Frederik Pohl (1919- ) under the pen name "Jordan Park". The main character is a mentally unstable young girl named Ann Riker, who joins the Eleusis Academy for Women, a reclusive small college in rural Pennsylvania, after being thrown out of another school for alleged lesbian acts.

As far as "mathematical fiction" is concerned, the main characters are Clara Gwynn, a young girl who against all of her family's hopes and dreams, decides to study mathematics, and her math professor Dr. Crouch, a man of about 40 years old who finished his PhD at 22 and went on to have a great career (for instance, his paper on Euler's theta-function had been reprinted by Scripta Mathematica and translated into 8 languages [doesn't that sound fancy?]) until something very bad happened (we are told eventually in the book). The book starts at the beginning of the academic year where Crouch, Gwynn and Riker all join Eleusis. Dr. Crouch is now disgruntled about life is general and accepts a job teaching at Eleusis, where he gives the bare minimum. Very soon, he is challenged by Ms. Gwynn who takes his calculus class, and he eventually emerges from his slumber because of her enthusiasm.

The main plot of the book is mildly entertaining if one is willing to disregard very old cliches, but the math subplot is very realistic and quite pleasant to read, and some of the passages show a great comprehension for the act of learning mathematics.

One of the most sublime passage, very early in the book, is when Clara, struggling in Calculus, goes to the library and stumbles upon Hilbert's Foundations of Geometry. She decides to take that book with the intention of brushing up on her high school work. Of course, after the first page, she understands nothing. Impressed by the credentials of Hilbert and comparing him with her high school teacher, she thinks:

(quoted from Sorority House )

Let's be sensible, Clara. Obviously what you learned was not real geometry and this is. She went back to the first page and read the first sentence word by word. Baldly and flat-footedly. Assume---there---is---a---class---of---things---such---that--- An hour later she closed the book, still on page one. Kathryn turned to her politely. "I think I've got it," Clara said. "The damned thing means exactly what it says. 'Classes of things.' What they are doesn't matter except as you define them. he's talking about lines and points but he deliberately doesn't say so because everybody thinks he knows what a line is and what a point is. He doesn't, though. You think a point is small, a line is straight and long---well, what does that mean? What does straight mean?"

Clara emerges from this one hour of struggle through Hilbert's book with a certain appreciation and curiosity for mathematics. As a reader of this book, one witnesses the maturing of this curiosity until Clara decides to actually go the whole way to the PhD and a research and teaching career.

It should be noted that this book is considered "rare" and that it is difficult to obtain a copy these days. I am therefore especially grateful to Benoit Charbonneau (a math professor at the University of Waterloo) for reviewing this unusual work of mathematical fiction for us.

(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 Sorority House
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Drunkard's Walk by Frederik Pohl
  2. Gomez by Cyril M. Kornbluth
  3. Rough Strife by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
  4. Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  5. Advanced Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  6. On the Quantum Theoretic Implications of Newton's Alchemy by Alex Kasman
  7. Division by Zero by Ted Chiang
  8. Continuums by Robert Carr
  9. The God Patent by Ransom Stephens
  10. Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles] by Michel Houellebecq
Ratings for Sorority House :
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

MotifAcademia, Female Mathematicians, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful, Math Education,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Analysis/Calculus/Differential,

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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)