a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Anomaly [L'Anomalie] (2020)
Hervé Le Tellier

This award-winning French novel offers an interesting twist on the now familiar science fiction trope of an airplane mysteriously re-appearing long after it has vanished. In this version, the international flight is redirected to a military base after emerging from a mysterious storm while on approach for a landing. What the crew and passengers do not know is that several months have passed on the ground since they entered the storm, and that another copy of their plane landed on time. The survivors of the flight who are already home and have returned to their normal lives consequently now have doppelgängers at that military base who share their memories, at least those up until the flight.

This plot twist allows for some interesting philosophical musings. The cast of characters selected is also interesting, including a pragmatic assassin, a closeted Nigerian pop star, and a suicidal author about to make it big in the literary world. All of that part of the story is rather serious. Even the parts of the story which are intended to parody American politics and culture seemed serious to this reader. (Perhaps to someone from another country those parts would also seem humorously entertaining. Unfortunately, it did not work for me.)

Oh, I have not yet mentioned anything about math. Since this book is included in this database, and since the author is a member of the Oulipo group, there must be a mathematical aspect to it as well. That part, as it turns out, is a farce which I found to be quite funny!

According to this novel, shortly after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, two young MIT mathematicians (a postdoc with expertise in Markov chains and a graduate student in graph theory) were tasked by the U.S. government with creating a comprehensive list of what could go wrong with an airplane and protocols for handling each situation. They took that job seriously and formed such a list, but they also included "Protocol 42", a catch-all that was purportedly intended to capture any possibility not already listed. They did not really believe there were any other possibilities, and so they thought of Protocol 42 as a sort of a joke. (Even the protocol number was a joking reference to HHGTTG.) The government, on the other hand, took Protocol 42 seriously. So, when the unforeseen circumstances described above took place, they contacted the two (former) MIT math grad students. Many years had passed since then during which one became a mathematics professor at Princeton and the other left academia to work as a mathematician in industry. But, due to the proscriptions of Protocol 42, they were now officially in charge of the response, with the government providing them with a team including high ranking military and diplomatic personnel at their command, and also prominent scientists and mathematicians (who were essentially kidnapped and forced to join "the team"). Consequently, quite a few of the people we see working on the problem are mathematicians, and some of their theories to explain what happened are also described in mathematical terms. Most of the mathematicians who appear are entirely fictional (I presume), although one flamboyant mathematician speaking on behalf of the French government looked a bit familiar to me.

In summary, this is a creative and thought provoking work of modern fiction which includes many mathematicians as supporting characters and uses some mathematical terminology.

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 Anomaly [L'Anomalie]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Dr. No: A Novel by Percival Everett
  2. The Humans: A Novel by Matt Haig
  3. The Princess Hoppy or the Tale of Labrador by Jacques Roubaud
  4. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  5. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
  6. The Fear Index by Robert Harris
  7. Colonel Lágrimas by Carlos Fonseca Suárez
  8. White Rabbit, Red Wolf [This Story is a Lie] by Tom Pollock
  9. Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker
  10. La formule de Stokes, roman by Michèle Audin
Ratings for The Anomaly [L'Anomalie]:
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:
1.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.5/5 (2 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction, Adventure/Espionage,

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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)