a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Instantiation (2019)
Greg Egan
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

In this sequel to 3-adica, the conscious video game characters plan an escape that feels like a cross between Mission Impossible and Inception, but with the addition of famous mathematicians sitting around and discussing logic.

In the previous Greg Egan stories in this series, we learned that a video game company has been creating characters to interact with paying customers in the virtual reality role playing games by combining information obtained from brain scans of many human "contributors". So, none of them is an exact copy of any individual human. As far as the creators of the games and the players are concerned, they are just realistic characters in a video game. However, they are actually self-aware and have enough memories from their contributors to be able to figure out what is happening to them.

Unfortunately for them, the company that created the games they live in is not doing well financially and is likely to shut down the server where they have established their safe haven. So, they plan to move themselves (and their virtual world) to the computer of a game player named Jarrod who has just the right computer setup. But, they first have to get Jarrod to login again!

Of course, the real interest in the story is in whether their plan to save themselves from the impending end of their (virtual) universe will succeed. That has nothing to do with math aside from the fact that the game which Jarrod was playing is one involving mathematicians.

Finally, we get to the math: The game that Jarrod was playing was a rather bizarre one that would probably only appeal to complete math geeks. It features Emmy Noether working together with Kurt Gödel and other logicians (Tarski, Carnap, Quine, etc) to overthrow the Nazis in Vienna in the 1930's. Of course, that's not what happened in reality, but that's the idea of the game. The attraction of the game to its fans is presumably not only in seeing how those great minds would have thwarted the Third Reich, but in being them while they do it. But, that was not Jarrod's reason for playing. Jarrod was playing the role of Gödel and seemed particularly interested in Emmy Noether, but then suddenly stopped playing. So, Sagreda (one of the sentient characters) takes over the role of Emmy Noether in the hopes of luring Jarrod back into the game long enough for their escape plan to work.

The story includes conversations between the mathematicians and logicians on such topics as a sort of "fixed point theorem" for the map taking a formula to its Gödel number, why Noether should be proud of her own achievements rather than jealous of Kurt, and the Axiom of Choice. Remember, though, in the story it is not really these famous intellectuals having those conversations but rather gamers wearing virtual reality suits pretending to be them.

This story was originally published in the Feb/Mar 2019 issue of Asimov's Magazine and was then republished in a Greg Egan anthology of the same name.

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Works Similar to Instantiation
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. 3-adica by Greg Egan
  2. Mathematical Revelations by Helen De Cruz
  3. Abendland (Occident) by Michael Köhlmeier
  4. The Fairytale of the Completely Symmetrical Butterfly by Dietmar Dath
  5. Oracle by Greg Egan
  6. The Goddess of Small Victories [La déesse des petites victoire] by Yannick Grannec
  7. Continuums by Robert Carr
  8. Gentzen oder: Betrunken aufräumen [Gentzen or Cleaning Up Drunk] by Dietmar Dath
  9. Axiom of Dreams by Arula Ratnakar
  10. The Difference Engine by William Gibson / Bruce Sterling
Ratings for Instantiation:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Science Fiction,
MotifReal Mathematicians, War, Female Mathematicians, Kurt Gödel,
TopicReal Mathematics, Logic/Set 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)