MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Prost, der Faust-Tragödie (-n)ter Teil [Prost: the (-n)th Part of the Faust Tragedy] (1882)
Kurd Lasswitz
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A poem written in German about a character named "Prost" who is stumped by a particularly difficult differential equation. He drinks a lot of beer (in keeping with his name, which is the German equivalent of "Cheers!") and rambles on about variables and questions of convergence before eventually calling on the spirit of the "infinitely small", who appears to him as "Dx". Prost is also visited by Faust's demon Mephisto and by a fox.

I fear that I do not know enough German or enough mathematics history to get the point of this work of mathematical fiction. Correction from anyone else who knows more than I do would be greatly appreciated. My naive guess is it has to do with the way infinitesimals filled a logical gap in mathematical analysis, and perhaps therefore that Dx can save Prost from having to make a deal with the devil. Maybe? Well, I'm really not sure. And the fox? Is he somehow related to the mathematician Lazarus Fuchs? Again...I have no confidence in that guess.

Lasswitz was clearly attempting to mimic Goethe when he wrote this poem. (In the preface, he literally claims that it was actually written by Goethe's ghost and sent to him via "astrophysical mediation from the fourth dimension in a book glued on all sides".) The poem was printed independently in 1882 by the publisher Reid. Then it was republished as Zeitschrift für mathematischen und naturwissenschaftlichen Unterricht 14, 312-318 (1883).

Thanks to Simon Brown of the Deviot Institute for suggesting that I add it to this database.

More information about this work can be found at www.projekt-gutenberg.org.
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Works Similar to Prost, der Faust-Tragödie (-n)ter Teil [Prost: the (-n)th Part of the Faust Tragedy]
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. I of Newton by Joe Haldeman
  2. The Devil a Mathematician Would Be by A.J. Lohwater
  3. The Devil and Simon Flagg by Arthur Porges
  4. When the Devil Took the Professor [Wie der Teufel den Professor holte] by Kurd Lasswitz
  5. The Number Devil [Der Zahlenteufel] by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
  6. The Franklin's Tale (in The Canterbury Tales) by Geoffrey Chaucer
  7. Math Takes a Holiday by Paul Di Filippo
  8. Been a long, long time by R.A. Lafferty
  9. Naturally by Fredric Brown
  10. The Root and the Ring by Wyman Guin
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Categories:
GenreHumorous, Fantasy,
Motif
TopicAnalysis/Calculus/Differential,
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)