a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Helpline (2019)
Katherine Collette

In this work of fiction, an anti-social character who believes that all of life's questions can be answered by mathematics discovers that there's more to life than numbers. In this particular version of that (unfortunately) very common plot, the main character has lost her job at an insurance company and according to the blurb "realizes that there are very few job openings for recently laid-off senior mathematicians with no people skills".

Then she gets hired to work at a Senior Citizen's Helpline. This may seem like an odd fit for someone with poor social skills, but it turns out that is all part of an evil plan concocted by the mayor and a national sudoku champion to use her to destroy the senior center.

In addition to the stereotype represented by the main character/narrator, there are lame (IMHO) attempts to communicate ideas using mathematical terminology. For example:

(quoted from The Helpline)

This was the sort of problem that looked complicated on the surface, but once you realized that Celia and Don had an inverse relationship, it was very straightforward:




Difficult, eh? But if you got rid of Celia by making C=0, then the whole thing resolved itself. Also, if C=0, then D for Don=infinity and that's the biggest "number" there is.

Yuck! Even mathematicians do not think people are numbers. There may be some features of those people that can be measured by numbers (e.g. their age or income), but nobody would propose treating the entire person as a number. Moreover, C being 0 would make the output of the function f undefined, but it would not make D infinite. (For instance, f(x)=1/x is a function. Would x=0 make 1 equal to infinity?) I'm sure some people reading my complaints will think that I'm being overly picky, but think of it this way: math is a language. There would be ways to say things with that language about the relationship between Celia and Don, but Collette does not know the language well enough to do it. If an author does not know English well enough to say something meaningful, we don't encourage them to write a novel in English, do we? All I'm saying is that I feel the same about the use of math.

I'm afraid I cannot recommend this first novel by an Australian author to visitors to this website. But, perhaps you feel differently. If you do, please feel free to contact me and I may post your own more flattering description of this book here.

More information about this work can be found at
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Helpline
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. After Math by Denise Grover Swank
  2. Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich
  3. A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock
  4. The Happy Numbers of Julius Miles by Jim Keeble
  5. Hole in the Paper Sky by Howard Kingkade (Screenplay) / Bill Purple (Director)
  6. Along Came Polly by John Hamburg (Writer and Director)
  7. Slightly Perfect / Are you with it? by George Malcolm-Smith (Novel) / Sam Perrin (Script) / George Balzer (Script)
  8. Tracking the Random Variable by Marcos Donnelly
  9. An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender
  10. Stand-In by Tay Garnett
Ratings for The Helpline:
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MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Female Mathematicians,

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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)