a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Calculated Risks (2021)
Seanan McGuire
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

In this sequel, Sarah must use her mathematical skills to rescue her cousins and a big chunk of Iowa State University from the dimension to which she banished them in Imaginary Numbers.

The Price family, about whom McGuire has written many books, includes many different sorts of humanoid beings with special powers and they fight against bad cryptids. Normally, they fight against "cuckoos", creatures from another dimension who are embedded into a human family as children and then kill them when entering adulthood, beginning a life of controlling unsuspecting humans with their psychic powers. Oh, and cuckoos also all love math, which is related to their ability to move between "dimensions". Indeed, Sarah Zelaby is a cuckoo, she has psychic powers, and she does love math, but having been adopted by the Price family saved her from becoming a monster herself.

At the end of the previous book, Sarah biological mother forced her to manipulate an equation that would transport the cuckoos to another dimension, but would kill Sarah, the Price family, and all life on Earth. Instead, she figures out how to save the day. Doing so, unfortunately, carried them and the university campus they were on to another universe, and erased any memory of her from the minds of her cousins.

This book picks up where that one left off. In the other universe, Sarah learns a lot about her race, the Johrlac, and their mathematics. (There is another "good" cuckoo there with them from whom she learns some things she did not previously know. Moreover, members of their ancestor race once also visited the planet they find themselves on, leaving behind stories and powerful equations.) But she has to work hard to convince her family to trust her again. This is especially painful in the case of her cousin Artie because in the last book they finally had confessed their love for each other, though of course he no longer remembers that or even who Sarah is. Also, she has to figure out how to get them all back to Earth, hopefully without dying in the process.

In narrating the book, Sarah does reveal some of her thoughts about math. For example;

(quoted from Calculated Risks)

Math defines and underpins the universe. Without it, nothing would make sense. Nothing would hold together. Physics can't exist without math. Biology can't exist without math. Math can do anything. I had my hands on what was very probably the biggest piece of math in existence, and I'd only used it to do harm. ... The thought was sobering.

(quoted from Calculated Risks)

With the suns up, it was easier to see just how much distance [the giant spider on which she is riding] could cover with every jump, propelling himself miles with a single push of his legs. The musculature of it all didn't make any sense to me, but I was confident the math would work out if I could just sit down and pick at it for a little while. Math usually does.

I don't think I'm giving away too much if I tell you that her solution to the problem involves getting six white boards, a bunch of dry-erase markers, and some Sharpies.

"Why Sharpies?" you may ask. I'll let Sarah explain:

(quoted from Calculated Risks)

I waved my dry-erase marker. "This is what I use for math I might need to wipe out and replace with something else." I pulled a Sharpie out of my pick and waved that. "Once I start using this, everything I write is permanent and I can't make any more mistakes"

"So why change pens?" asked a kid.

"Some of the math has to be permanent to work the way I want it to," I said. "The equation will recognize my weak spots if I make it all malleable. So I need you all to be very, very quiet and not do any more screaming, no matter what happens..."

I would classify this book as "young adult" fiction, with an entirely unsubtle focus on the interests of teenagers, their crushes and their fandoms. And, it doesn't say anything particularly deep, meaningful, or interesting about mathematics. But, it is a fun book to read and math certainly plays a major role in it.

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Works Similar to Calculated Risks
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Midnighters (Series) by Scott Westerfield
  2. Bonnie's Story: A Blonde's Guide to Mathematics by Janis Hill
  3. Imaginary Numbers by Seanan McGuire
  4. The Peculiarities by David Liss
  5. Quaternia by Tom Petsinis
  6. Monster's Proof by Richard Lewis
  7. The Living Equation by Nathan Schachner
  8. Time Travel for Love and Profit by Sarah Lariviere
  9. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
  10. Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan
Ratings for Calculated Risks:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult,
MotifAliens, 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)