a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Elegantly, In the Least Number of Steps (2012)
Monica McFawn

A young man named Aaron who works at a company that releases butterflies at events is attacked and seriously wounded right after he finally finds a proof of the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture. That may sound like an odd description, but McFawn fits those pieces (and two others: Aaron's dead brother and Aaron's communications with a math professor about their research) together seamlessly.

The descriptions of math and mathematicians do not ring true to me. They sound like the ideas of an author of fiction who has limited experience with either. For example, Aaron's need to think of numbers in terms of beans (as in grade school) and his friend the math professor's similar need to "tether" the abstractions by hanging numbers written on crepe paper from his office ceiling seem interesting, but unlike anything I have seen or heard from a real mathematician. The professors "jokes" also do not sound like anything a real mathematician would say.

But, realism is probably not what McFawn was aiming for in this story in which the constant presence of butterflies adds a sense of something eerie and supernatural. In fact, it is a very beautifully written story. It is easy to see why McFawn would be the winner of a Flannery O'Connor Award.

First published in Confrontation Magazine Issue 112, the story was more reprinted in McFawn's collection "Bright Shards of Someplace Else".

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Works Similar to Elegantly, In the Least Number of Steps
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
  2. The Wild Numbers by Philibert Schogt
  3. Continuums by Robert Carr
  4. A Universe of Sufficient Size by Miriam Sved
  5. Buried Alive at the End of the World by Blair Bourrassa
  6. Stay Close, Little Ghost by Oliver Serang
  7. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
  8. Zilkowski's Theorem by Karl Iagnemma
  9. Towel Season by Ron Carlson
  10. Satisfactory Proof by Cynthia Morrison Phoel
Ratings for Elegantly, In the Least Number of Steps:
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:
4/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

MotifProving Theorems,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
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)