a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Music of the Spheres (2011)
Ken Liu
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

The short stories in the anthology Mirror Shards all focus on augmented reality (AR), the idea that our perception of the world around us will be fundamentally changed by the use of advanced technology. Ken Liu's contribution, Music of the Spheres considers the effect that it might have on math research.

Central to the story is the evolving relationship between a student of mathematics and his younger sister, destined to become a biologist. As the story opens, he is helping her with her geometry homework. (Side Note: I really hope that children learn Euclidean geometry in school in the future, as they apparently do in Liu's imagination. In the reality in which I live, this important part of cultural and mathematical history has been all but wiped out of the K-12 curriculum!) However, by the time he is studying math in grad school, the world is changing too quickly, and it is her knowledge of evolutionary biology helps him to be able to deal with the situation.

The story presents an interesting viewpoint on mathematical aesthetics and on differing mathematical abilities between individuals. Moreover, aside from the Euclidean geometry mentioned above, there is also a bit about coordinate geometry and transformations and a good discussion of the role of computers in proving the Four Color Theorem. There is no doubt that the relationship between the two protagonists is emotionally potent, but it seems to me, that what this story is really about what it takes to prove interesting theorems today, and how that might change as a consequence of AR.

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Works Similar to Music of the Spheres
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer by Ken Liu
  2. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  3. Axiom of Dreams by Arula Ratnakar
  4. Proof by Induction by José Pablo Iriarte
  5. Strange Attractors by Charles Soule (author) / Greg Scott (Illustrator)
  6. Young Beaker by J.T. Lamberty, Jr.
  7. Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds
  8. Gifted by Marc Webb (director) / Tom Flynn (writer)
  9. The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
  10. The Arrows of Time [Orthogonal Book Three] by Greg Egan
Ratings for Music of the Spheres:
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:
5/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAcademia, Proving Theorems, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful, Math Education,
MediumShort Stories,

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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)