MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Gift of Numbers (1958)
Alan Nourse
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Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A mild story about an accounting book-keeper, Avery Mearns, who runs into a stranger called, “The Colonel” at the local bar. “The Colonel had a way with numbers like no other guy around. It was sort of an inward and spiritual grace with him”. The Colonel offers to swap his gift of numbers with Avery in exchange for $20 and some reciprocal transfer of Avery’s physical qualities.

What is this Gift?

(quoted from The Gift of Numbers)

“With the Gift of Numbers the columns of figures should take care of themselves. Numbers have a powerful quality of cohesion, you know. No number is an independent member, but only a member in relation to its fellows So if you yourself can enter into the cohesion, the numbers become a part of you and you a part of them. They can’t help but obey you.”

“Sounds pretty nice,” Avery admitted. “I guess I’ll just have to go on adding.”

“Nonsense,” said the Colonel. “You have a column of numbers to balance —it’s balanced!” He waved his hand airily. “An error to find on the page? A mere nothing—one look, and there it is!”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

What is the process of transfer?

(quoted from The Gift of Numbers)

“ You could transfer part of your gift to me?”

“Certainly. It isn’t all one way, of course—you’d transfer some of your bookkeeping tendencies to me at the same time. It’s a function of higher cerebral centers, you understand. Constant high-frequency synaptics from the transthalamus and the hippocampus, communicating with the frontal and parietal cortical layers. Very close contact must be made, of course — a form of supratentorial juxtaposition.

[...]

“Of course,” said the Colonel, “I couldn’t consider anything permanent. The transfer is too deep-seated. Some authorities claim it’s a basic subtotal somatic and psychomatic interexchange...”

Once the transfer of gifts takes place, Avery finds a sea-change in his perception of numbers.

(quoted from The Gift of Numbers)

“The columns balanced like magic. The errors on the pages lit up like neon signs and winked at him enticingly. Quite suddenly he found himself feeling a sense of warmth, of kinship, with those pretty little numbers that tracked up and down the page. Almost as though they were blood brothers, you might say.”

But with his preternatural numerical abilities come other side-effects - an overwhelming urge to gamble, to steal, to embezzle... naturally, after a brief stint with the law, Avery becomes the most sought-after expert by all the financial power-brokers in the nation - and abroad. His kind of financial wizardry is not commonly found.

And then... the final twist in the story with the Colonel...

This story was originally published in the August 1958 issue of Super-Science Fiction and has been reprinted a few times, most recently in this anthology.

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Works Similar to The Gift of Numbers
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Plane and Fancy by P. Schuyler Miller
  2. Merlin Planet by E.G. Von Wald
  3. When the Devil Took the Professor [Wie der Teufel den Professor holte] by Kurd Lasswitz
  4. The Mathematics of Magic by L. Sprague de Camp / Fletcher Pratt
  5. The Devil You Don't by Keith Laumer
  6. God Doesn't Shoot Craps by Richard Armstrong
  7. Perelman's Song by Tina Chang
  8. The Tower of Babylon by Ted Chiang
  9. Hamisch in Avalon by Eliot Fintushel
  10. Somnium by Johannes Kepler
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Categories:
GenreScience Fiction, Fantasy,
Motif
TopicMathematical Finance,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The total number of works of mathematical fiction listed in this database recently reached a milestone. The 1,500th entry is The Man of Forty Crowns by Voltaire. Thanks to Vijay Fafat for writing the summary of that work (and so many others). I am also grateful to everyone who has contributed to this website. Heck, I'm grateful to everyone who visited the site. Thank you!

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)