a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

Probabilitea (2019)
John Chu
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

When it said at the beginning of this story that "Katie’s a physical manifestation of Order and Chaos," I presumed at first it meant that metaphorically. In fact, it means that Katie's father has the power to do things like arrange for the license plates of cars driving past her to convey the message that he has been trying unsuccessfully to contact her via text messages.

Her father challenges Katie with difficult and seemingly abstract questions about probability:

(quoted from Probabilitea)

His problem sets are always these abstract puzzles where she has to manipulate one probability distribution function to another using only an arbitrary—and, in her opinion, unfair and generally unhelpful—set of mathematical transformations.

But now, as he steers her towards working with her friend Jackson (who happens to be a physical manifestation of Life and Death) to thwart the plans of a gang of white supremacists, she finally understands why:

(quoted from Probabilitea)

Katie finally understands these endless problem sets she’s been solving for years. Her father has been drilling her for as long as she can remember on the various ways to manipulate order and chaos, always with the stern warning never to manipulate the real world in any way that materially affects anyone. He has also given her ever more ridiculously difficult math problems to solve. Put the two together and Katie can manipulate one set of real-world conditions into another. Not that her father has ever mentioned this to her. In particular, the solution to the first problem he asked her to solve by tomorrow sets up the conditions Jackson has asked for. Not only can Katie do what Jackson wants, she actually knows exactly how to do it. Well, at least in theory. If she’s solved that problem right.

Thanks to Gregory Cherlin who suggested I add this story to my database. It was published online in UNCANNY MAGAZINE ISSUE TWENTY-EIGHT.

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

Katie is a highly gifted girl of Chinese descent. Her father is “a physical manifestation of Order and Chaos […]… is too skilled and too practiced at manipulating order and chaos for any other outcome.”. He has a habit of giving her weekly problems about which he is fairly insistent, demanding that Katie finish those on time even at the expense of some of her regular studies.

(quoted from Probabilitea)

“His problem sets are always these abstract puzzles where she has to manipulate one probability distribution function to another using only an arbitrary—and, in her opinion, unfair and generally unhelpful—set of mathematical transformations.”

It turns out that Katie herself has the ability to manipulate Order and Chaos [e.g. she had unintentionally stacked three mahjong tables’ worth of hands when she was ten. She can also play with the interaction of air molecules to redirect sound waves] As she is growing older, she realizes what her father has been training to do:

(quoted from Probabilitea)

“Now that she thinks about it, though, most of his exercises have been to make sure she never changed the probabilities of anything by accident. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t get some sort of reminder not to manipulate order and chaos in ways that matter to people’s lives. That all seems the opposite of what manifestations do.”

Jackson is a fellow friend who “is the manifestation of Life and Death who would be deadly anyway.”. [He had killed all the pets on his block once when he was twelve. By accident. He did revive all of them immediately]. Jackson also has some limited abilities to simulate how the future might unfold if certain actions were taken. So between the two of them, and her superlative father, you have a set of superheroes…

Jackson and Katie meet at a tea-shop where Jackson shows Katie how a white supremacist is planning a massacre which will forever change their little corner of civilization. Jackson can kill him outright, as can Katie, but Jackson knows that the unfolding future would not be pretty. He wants Katie to create certain conditions using her powers of manifestation so that the threat gets neutralized without blowing up the future. As Katie tells him:

(quoted from Probabilitea)

“You’re basically asking me to manipulate one probability distribution function to another using only an arbitrary— and, frankly, unfair and unhelpful—set of mathematical trans—” Katie’s gaze falls on the first problem her father asked her to solve and a near electric thrum of excitement vibrates through her. “Actually, yes, I do.”

The events take their little course without a problem, with the story ending in a poignant conversation between Katie and her father, speak about their gift and a talk around the great responsibility which comes with great power. A neat short story.

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 Probabilitea
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Numbercruncher by Si Spurrier (writer) / PJ Holden (artist)
  2. Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang
  3. Strange Attractors by Charles Soule (author) / Greg Scott (Illustrator)
  4. Incomplete Proofs by John Chu
  5. Damned Souls and Statistics by Robert Dawson
  6. What it Means When A Man Falls From The Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
  7. Lost by Tamora Pierce
  8. Cantor’s Dragon by Craig DeLancy
  9. Matrices by Steven Nightingale
  10. The God Equation by Michael A.R. Co
Ratings for Probabilitea:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

MotifFemale Mathematicians,
TopicChaos/Fractals, Probability/Statistics,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

Home All New Browse Search About

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)