a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Special Meal (2021)
Josh Malerman

This story about a young girl enjoying her favorite meal with her family takes place in a dystopian society where knowledge of math is illegal. In fact, her brother recently reported a friend of his to the authorities when she revealed to him that she knew math. So, the young girl (who is also the narrator) must lie to her family and to the interrogators who will soon test her. She knows she must hide the fact that she has taught herself numbers and some basic arithmetic from listening to her parents and playing with the family's eight shoes.

For the most part, the only mathematics discussed is the idea of specific numbers. The interrogators try to trap her into admitting that she knows how many people are in her family or what it means that they have "only one more question" to ask. Also, the narrator twice mentioned the number one-half and hints at the idea of infinity. There is also a tiny bit of arithmetic in the idea that the family has eight shoes because each of the four family members has two.

Normally, I would not include a story which only addresses certain specific numbers in this database. (For example, I do not list the many children's books which are designed to introduce them to the numbers from one to ten within a story.) But, the story raises two ideas which may be of interest to the visitors at this website: the whole idea of a law against mathematical knowledge and her father's comments on the fact that this law is impossible to follow because of the ubiquity of mathematics.

This story was published in a collection of works inspired by the writing of Shirley Jackson, and I suppose it does seem somewhat reminiscent of her famous story The Lottery in that it is a horrific story about children without anything supernatural.

I am grateful to Gregory Cherlin for bringing this story to my attention!

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Works Similar to Special Meal
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Masters by Ursula K. Le Guin
  2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  3. Locker 49, or the Volunteers by David Rogers
  4. Grigori’s Solution by Isobelle Carmody
  5. The Book of Irrational Numbers by Michael Marshall Smith
  6. The Object by Alex Kasman
  7. The Integral: A Horror Story by Colin Adams
  8. Old Fillikin by Joan Aiken
  9. Excision by Richard Bates Jr (Director and Screenwriter)
  10. Unknown Things by Reginald Bretnor
Ratings for Special Meal:
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)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

MotifMath Education,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
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)