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Nymphomation (2000)
Jeff Noon
Highly Rated!

A math professor's theory of ``nymphomation'' (described in the book as a way for numbers to mate) is used to develop a lottery game called "Domino Bones" that entirely takes over the city of Manchester, UK. With the help of a few of his best students, and a few `ghosts' from his past, Professor Maximus Hackle tries to beat the odds and destroy the game.

When we get a more detailed description of nymphomation, it comes out sounding a lot like the analysis of Conway's "Game of Life" in terms of species of "creatures", but here they `have sex'. (And things really get out of control when this `number sex' is combined with human sex!)

Things I liked about this book:

  • Psychedelic 1960's Math Journals!: Hackle's articles were published in the late 1960's in a `journal' called Number Gumbo: A Mathemagical Grimoire and had titles like "The No-Win Labyrinth: A solution to any such Hackle maze", "Maze Dynamics and DNA Codings, a special theory of Nymphomation" and "Fourth-Dimensional Orgasms and the Casanova Effect." Another article in one issue mathematically analyzed Jimi Henrix's guitar licks.
  • "New Math": In a prologue and flashbacks, we learn that the story really started back in grade school when Hackle's teacher used unusual methods to teach her students math. Instead of just teaching them to add and subtract, she used a box of dominoes to teach them about probability and game theory. Sounds like a good idea? Unfortunately, she drove herself, her students, and an investigator sent by the Board of Ed more than just a little bit crazy in the process.
  • Mathematically Schizophrenic Poetry: Many of the sentences in the book have no real meaning, and seem instead like the rantings of a mad mathematician. For example: "Domination Day, lucky old Bonechester. The naked population making foreplay to the domiviz, bone-eyed and numberf*cked as the opening credits came in a shower of pips. Tumbling jig dominoes, watch them dance now, forever chancing zero. Jig that sexy jumble! Even the air had a hard-on, bulging with mathematics. Turning the blurbflies into a nympho-swarm, liquid streets alive with perverts. Play to win! Play to love! And all over the city that hot and juicy evening, three hourse from midnight and shrouded, gangs of punters were plaguing the city, stroking their bones on napkins and torusers, blouses and dresses, breasts and groins. Voyeurs of probablility. Gazing, full-on, as some fractal dots pulsated to the theme song."

Things I didn't like:

  • Unlogic: Okay, so this is supposed to take place in some universe with a more bizarre logic than our own. For example, the goop that you squeeze out of the blurbflies (little flying, biological advertisements the size of a real housefly) can be squirted into a locked door to unlock it or into a computer's floppy drive to get you through password protection. Yeah, right! But, okay, I'm willing to accept that logic for the story and it is kind of fun. But, the problem is that the whole story doesn't make sense to me. In the end we find out things like who created the "Domino Bones" game, what happened to the teacher, how they eventually win...but I can't make much sense out of it. I don't see how Mr Millions could have created that game. It doesn't make sense to me that the teacher would have ended up where she was. And, most importantly, the "victory" at the end seems empty because I don't really understand how they did it, just that they did.
  • Unmath: Even though I said I liked the mathematical schizophrenic poetry, it still bothered me when a mathematical term was used in an otherwise reasonable sentence but in a way that made no sense. Words like "fractal" are tossed around by the author as if they are magical incantations with no meaning...but to me it has a meaning so the sentence doesn't work. Also, when Jaz proves to his father that he's learning calculus by saying that "as y goes to infinity x goes to 1", I'm not sure if that is supposed to sound like something that nobody in calculus would ever say (it does to me) or if this is just another example of the fact that Noon treats mathematical expressions as if they are meaningless anyway.

Contributed by Anonymous

Noon is so proud of his little collections of words he doesnt seem to have any interest in saying anything with them. Fun to skim, but almost nothing there. Has a vibe, but the whole thing is so piecemeal, it is hard to walk away from it with much."

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Works Similar to Nymphomation
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
  2. The Four-Color Problem by Barrington J. Bayley
  3. The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
  4. Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy
  5. Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick
  6. Killing Time by Frank Tallis
  7. Signal to Noise by Eric S. Nylund
  8. In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D'Amato
  9. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
  10. Bellwether by Connie Willis
Ratings for Nymphomation:
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:
3.6/5 (5 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (5 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifEvil mathematicians, Mental Illness,
TopicFictional Mathematics, Probability/Statistics,

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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)