a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Unwilling Professor (1954)
Arthur Porges
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Two college students who are failing their math class kidnap an alien they encounter and force it to do homework for everyone in their fraternity.

There are some cute mathematical passages. For example, here is an explanation of how badly the students were doing:

(quoted from The Unwilling Professor)

Ira's math instructor had informed him, with a kind of loathing respect, that his only salvation lay in recommencing the study of arithmetic -- taking five or ten years in the process -- and then retiring to a cave for perhaps another fifteen in the vain hope of digesting, through meditation and prayer, the multiplication table. After that, Irv might be ready for elementary algebra, but not, the professor hoped to a merciful God, in this unfortunate institution of higher learning.

And, when the alien sees the students' error-filled homework answers, he says:

(quoted from The Unwilling Professor)

Ah, I observe that you chaps are beginning the study of elementary mathematics. The limits are wrong on this integration: they should go from pi-over-two to pi-over-three first instead of to zero. There's a discontinuity at pi-over-three, and your result, that the center of gravity of this six-inch cube is nine feet to the right, looks somewhat implausible.

(Of course, the students don't know what a discontinuity is. But, fear not, the alien explains it.)

There are many things here that are hard to believe, not only that the alien looks exactly like a rabbit and speaks perfect British English (learned from the BBC), but that the professors accept the sudden increase in the the frat brothers' math homework grades instead of recognizing that they are somehow cheating. However, if you can suspend disbelief, it is a cute and humorous tale with a nicely twisted ending.

Originally published in Dynamic Science Fiction January 1954.

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Works Similar to The Unwilling Professor
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  3. Flower Arrangement by Rosel George Brown
  4. The Snowball Effect by Katherine Maclean
  5. The Higher Mathematics by Martin C. Wodehouse
  6. Dalrymple’s Equation by Paul Fairman
  7. All the Universe in a Mason Jar by Joe Haldeman
  8. The Secret Number by Igor Teper
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  10. Freemium by Louis Evans
Ratings for The Unwilling Professor:
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)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifAliens, 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)