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Shaffery Among the Immortals (1972)
Frederik Pohl
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Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A funny yarn about one Jeremy Shaffery, an astronomer who idolizes Einstein and his methods and who wants to achieve immortal fame by doing something just as famous. The problem is that he is not built for this (“The Einstein method, which he had studied assiduously over many years, was to make a pretty theory and then see if, by any chance, observations of events in the real world seemed to confirm it. Shaffery greatly approved of that method. It just didn't seem to work out for him.”). As his wife says with a bite,

(quoted from Shaffery Among the Immortals)

“Your trouble, Jeremy, is you're a horse's ass.” But he knew that wasn't it. Who was to say Isaac Newton wasn't a horse's ass, too, if you looked closely enough at his freaky theology and his nervous breakdowns? And look where he got.”

In a desperate moment, he starts trying to prove Fermat's Last Theorem (“It was one of those famous mathematical problems that grad students played at for a month or two and amateurs assaulted in vain all their lives. It looked easy enough to deal with.”). A description of the problem with analogy to Pythagoras theorem and the reference to Fermat's margin note follows. In fact, Shaffery has half a mind to just write a similar margin note but discards the idea for a few reasons (people would not take it seriously, it would be posthumous, etc). He tries out some desperate methods before other events take over. In the end, he achieves non-mathematical fame in an unwitting pandemic he causes which destroys most of the world's population…

Originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, July 1972.

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Works Similar to Shaffery Among the Immortals
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Gold at Starbow's End (aka Starburst / aka Alpha Aleph) by Frederik Pohl
  2. Another Cock Tale by Chris Miller
  3. Scandal in the Fourth Dimension by Amelia Reynolds Long (as "A.R. Long")
  4. The Higher Mathematics by Martin C. Wodehouse
  5. All the Universe in a Mason Jar by Joe Haldeman
  6. The Pexagon by D.J. Rozell
  7. Dimensional Analysis and Mr Fortescue by Eric St. Clair
  8. Nobody Loves a Moebius Strip by Alice Laurance
  9. Flower Arrangement by Rosel George Brown
  10. The Snowball Effect by Katherine Maclean
Ratings for Shaffery Among the Immortals:
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Mathematical Content:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
TopicMathematical Physics,
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)