a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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A Subway Named Moebius (1950)
A.J. Deutsch
Highly Rated!

When the MBTA (Boston's Public Transportation authority) introduces a new line, the topology of the network become so complex that a train vanishes...lost in some fourth dimensional properties of the network. The mathematics in this story is not always accurate. In particular, I disagree with the statment that a Möbius strip always has one singularity and a Klein bottle has two. (In fact, the standard versions of these topological curiosities are non-singular manifolds.) Maybe the author is confusing the "twisting" required to make these objects from two-sided 2-dimensional objects with singularity.
Apparently, this story was made into a movie!
Reprinted in Fantasia Mathematica.

Contributed by walter leight

"I read this story when it first came out -- more than a half century ago -- and recalled it in a conversation today, leading me to this web site and an opportunity to vote. Clearly, it was memorable!"

Contributed by Dan Jensen

"It has been many years since the one and only time I read "Subway". I can't recall any particular details of the story, except the main plot. That is why I only gave it a "3" on your scale. I do remember that when I read it as a young teen (I'm now in my mid 40s) I thought it was a very good story, and it introduced me to the unusual world of topology. Whenever I see an M.C. Escher print, I am reminded of this story. I'd like to re-read it from an adult point of view, if I could find it again."

Contributed by Patrick T. Ayers

I read this story once accidentally (I don't recall how I found it) and was intrigued by it greatly.

Contributed by Jack Gjovaag

Suspend belief and ignore the mathematical flubs and it is an interesting science fiction story, about as good as most in this typically mediocre genre.

Contributed by Anonymous

Read this story a long ago, but just the fact I still remember it means that it really can leave an impression.. Math is not at all accurate, but the idea is intriguing enough to let you think about it a while, which is what counts.

Contributed by Anonymous

This is a good story that makes crucial and proper use of math in a way that does not require much expertise from the reader.

Contributed by Maurizio Dagradi

I've read this [story] in the 70's, when I was a boy, and I loved it. Although the story stays vague on how a subway network, even if grown extremely complex, could trigger multidimensional behaviours, the atmosphere you breath while reading the novel is very intriguing and fascinating. It led me to learn some topology, and I was amazed.

Contributed by Rich

I keep re-discovering this story in anthologies every 15 or 20 years. I love it! My very first exposure to it, though, was actually as a story in one of the Marvel Comic anthologies in the 60's. I was delighted the first time I discovered the original story.

Contributed by Anonymous

The math may not be accurate, but the story couldn't exist without the math in question, so I gave it a 4 on that. 5 for literary quality-- I read it in an old anthology I found at a yard sale and loved it.

Contributed by Fred W

Read this as a kid and loved it at the time. Opens a child's mind to many possibilities. Would like to read it again and see how I relate to it these many years later.

Contributed by Anonymous

I read this soon after it was published in the 50's, and I've just got back from the 4th dimension.

Contributed by J Judson

I probably still have the original magazine in the attic. Since I am arithmetically challenged I have no right to judge its accuracy, but it certainly was memorable--for more than fifty years. And it can be found in various anthologies. As for that lofty smart aleck who finds the s-f field mediocre, he should really get to know it better--Asimov, Clarke, le Guin, Ellison, Sturgeon, Russ, Delaney, Dick, Heinlein, etc etc etc? Come on, wise guy!

Contributed by Jim "Suldog" Sullivan

My Father owned some collections of science fiction, published in the 1950's, and I devoured them when I was a child in the 1960's. Being from Dorchester (a neighborhood of Boston mentioned prominently in the story), and also a frequent rider of the MBTA, I was particularly intrigued by this. I have re-read it perhaps 10 or 12 times since the initial reading. I am not well-versed enough in mathematics to pass serious judgement on that aspect of the tale, but it DID introduce me to topology and I've found what little study I've made of it fascinating, so I've always been thankful to the author for that!

Contributed by John Mitchell

Very much my favourite sci-fi short story ever.

Contributed by Zoran Stanojevic

The No-sided Professor by Martin Gardner and The Library of Babel (Borges) are a must read for all who like this story

Contributed by Fritz

I did a science fair project on Mobius strips back in 1957. More recently, I began wondering about multi-sided Mobius strips. The only conjecture (no proof) I have is that the first partial turn always reduces n sides to one. I got up to ten sides and saw some patterns begin to appear with each partial turn, but I haven't carried it any further. I would surmise that the problem has been investigated by minds more skilled in these matters than mine!

Contributed by Lois

Read it the second time as a kid in Clifton Fadiman's Fantasia Mathematica in the late fifties. I was influenced....earned PhD in mathematics, Geometric Topology in the early seventies.

Contributed by David Ecklein

In the late fifties, as an MIT student, when passing through many of the stations mentioned, I was often reminded of A. J. Deutsch's wonderful A Subway Named Moebius. Since the date of this fantasy was 1950, the thought has occurred to me that Deutsch might have been inspired by the "MTA Song", created for the 1949 Boston mayoral campaign of Walter O'Brien, who ran as a Progressive Party candidate. Walter didn't do well, but the song did - with a few minor changes to the words ("Charlie" instead of "Walter"), it became popular, and was recorded by the Kingston Trio later in the fifties. As in Moebius it involved someone trapped on the subway - by economics (lack of a nickel), not by mathematics!

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Works Similar to A Subway Named Moebius
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. The Wall of Darkness by Arthur C. Clarke
  3. Moebius by Gustavo Daniel Mosquera R.
  4. The Adventures of Topology Man by Alex Kasman
  5. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  6. The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
  7. The Central Tendency by Daniel Kaysen
  8. No-Sided Professor by Martin Gardner
  9. Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan
  10. The Mobius Trail by George Smith
Ratings for A Subway Named Moebius:
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:
3.55/5 (28 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.95/5 (29 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifMobius Strip/Nonorientability,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The total number of works of mathematical fiction listed in this database recently reached a milestone. The 1,500th entry is The Man of Forty Crowns by Voltaire. Thanks to Vijay Fafat for writing the summary of that work (and so many others). I am also grateful to everyone who has contributed to this website. Heck, I'm grateful to everyone who visited the site. Thank you!

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)