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Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles] (1998)
Michel Houellebecq

The following description is based on material sent to me by Annie-Michel Pajus (IREM PARIS 7) in French. Any error below is likely to be a mistake that I made in attempting to translate it.

This novel relates the sentimental and professional journeys of two half-brothers: Bruno, in search of sexual pleasure, and Michel, a researcher in molecular biology, with no interest in life beyond the intellectual. His meditation on love, free action, supported by his knowledge of mathematics and physics, and a reflection on the history of quantum physics, will lead to stunning topological discoveries in physics and biology.

In particular, written from a late 21st Centruy perspective, the book eventually describes the work of Michel published between 2000 and 2009: Topology of meiosis (2002), Three conjectures in topology of Hilbert spaces (2004) Prolegomena to perfect replication (2009) . Isolated in Ireland, Michael also publishes Cliff Notes, from which the following paragraph is taken:

(quoted from Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles])

"Forms of nature, writes Djerzinski [Michel], are human forms. It is in our brains that the triangles, and interlacing branches appear. We confess, we like them, we live among them. In the middle of our creations, human creations, communicable to humans, we grow and die. In the middle of space, human space, we are testing, by these measures, we create the space, the space of our instruments "

Other Key Quotes:

(quoted from Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles])

p.85 Michael was well above the grade level [Première S, the last class before Baccalaureat, for 17 years old science majors]. The human world - he began to realize - was disappointing, full of anguish and bitterness. Mathematical equations endowed it with bright and serene joy. He advanced into semi-darkness, and suddenly he found a way: in some formulas, a few bold factorizations, it rose to a level of luminous serenity. The first equation of the demonstration was the most moving, because the truth partially revealed was still uncertain, the last equation was the most dazzling, the most joyous.

(quoted from Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles])

p203 The effects of intellectual stimulation of fasting are real, and after the first week, Michael had the intuition that perfect reproduction would be impossible as the DNA molecule would form a helix. For replication undegraded on an indefinite succession of cell generations, it was probably necessary that the structure carrying genetic information have a compact topology - such as a Moebius strip or a torus.

(quoted from Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles])

p215 [Michel attended a wedding conducted by Protestant Pastor Bruno who embroiders on the theme "one flesh"] Later, Michel approached the pastor who tidied up his utensils. "I was interested in what you said just now ... " He then elaborated on the experiences of Aspect and the EPR paradox: when two particles had been put together, they thus form an inseparable whole, "it seems quite relevant to this story of one flesh." The pastor's smile twitched slightly. "I mean", continued Michel, getting animated, "on the ontological level, they can be associated to a single state vector in a Hilbert space. You see what I mean?

(quoted from Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles])

The letter reached Michel in full crisis of discouragement. Margenau's hypothesis, one could assimilate the individual consciousness to a field of probabilities in a Fock space, defined as the direct sum of Hilbert spaces. This space could in principle be constructed from the elementary electronic events occurring at the synaptic microsites. Normal behavior was therefore similar to an elastic deformation of the field, the free act a tear: but in what topology? It was by no means clear that the natural topology of Hilbert spaces allows to account for the appearance of the free act and it was not even sure it is now possible to pose the problem, if not in terms highly metaphorical. However, Michel was convinced a new conceptual framework was needed.

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Works Similar to Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
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  3. The Nature of Smoke by Anne Harris
  4. Domaine [Domain] by Patric Chiha (screenplay and director)
  5. The Arrows of Time [Orthogonal Book Three] by Greg Egan
  6. Diaspora by Greg Egan
  7. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  8. Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb
  9. Pascal's Wager by Nancy Rue
  10. Border Guards by Greg Egan
Ratings for Les Particules élémentaires [Elementary Particles]:
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:
4/5 (1 votes)

MotifAcademia, Proving Theorems,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Mathematical Physics,

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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)