MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Tetraktys (2009)
Ari Juels
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A thriller in which a classicist with expertise in cryptography helps to track down a Pythagorean cult that has apparently discovered the ability to factor large integers quickly and therefore can break RSA encryption.

While writing this book, the author was employed as scientist at the RSA corporation. So, it is not surprising that he gets the technical aspects right. Still, as with many books in this genre, it has a tendency to exaggerate and to stretch facts nearly to their breaking point. For example, I think this claim it makes about Archimedes is "over the top":

(quoted from Tetraktys)

“Yes,” he said, running his finger down the page. “And there is a remarkable thing about Archimedes, Rochelle. He wrote a book called the Stomachion. Only a fragment remains, but it looks like it may have been a treatise on combinatorics. As you know, combinatorics is the mathematics behind computer science. If so, then Archimedes was the father of computer science, in a way.”

“Over two thousand years ago . . . ,” Rochelle said abstractly.

However, despite his technical expertise, Juels' writing did not receive very high ratings from many readers. This was, at least in part, because of the sudden "twist" ending, which I am about to reveal (and so you should stop reading this post now unless you want to know how the book ends).

Spoiler Alert: It turns out that the idea that it had anything to do with a newly discovered ability to factor integers was just a "red herring". Instead, the mystery was solved by the realization that the random number generators responsible for the encryption keys had been programmed with a bias which left a back door in the codes. That, of course, is not something that only happens in the realm of fiction. (See here for example.) The idea that the random number generators left a back door is mathematical. (See here for a mathematical take on the NSA's backdoor scheme.) But, in some ways this is much less interesting than the discovery of a fast factorization algorithm . It is a bit disappointing because this is more mathematical sleight of hand and less the mathematical magic that the reader had been led to expect.

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(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 Tetraktys
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Simple Genius by David Baldacci
  2. Pythagoras' Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery by Arturo Sangalli
  3. False Witness by Randy D. Singer
  4. No Regrets by Shannon Butcher
  5. The Mystic Cipher by Dennis Mangrum
  6. Turing's Delirium by Edmundo Paz Soldan
  7. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
  8. Ghost Dancer by John Case
  9. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  10. The Chimera Prophesies by Elliott Ostler
Ratings for Tetraktys:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
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Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)
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Categories:
GenreAdventure/Espionage,
Motif
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Probability/Statistics,
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)