a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

i (2005)
Paul Evanby

A computer programmer meets a composer who is trying to incorporate complex numbers into musical theory:

(quoted from i)

I nodded slowly, and pointed at the other screen. “What about that?”

He pursed his lips. “Working on a program to calculate i.”

A joke, I thought. “That’s right, the composer is the mathematician...” But he was peering intently at the screen. I frowned. “But Ian, the imaginary unit is... just that. It’s imaginary. A convenience, nothing more. A symbol, defined as the square root of minus one. Trust me. I’m the programmer.”

He smiled and looked at me. “And I’m calculating it.”

I was silent.

Why not calculate 1 for an encore? But it was too late now. He lived somewhere he called nowhere; I had accepted that without question. And he called himself i. No sense now in explaining the meaningless of ‘calculating’ it, was there?

He knew that.

So I asked: “And once you know the result?”

He stared at the keyboard. “A theory of harmony based on complex numeric relations...”

I shook my head, stood up, switched on the light. “Bollocks, Ian. You’re a composer, right? You know that harmony is based on natural ratios. The octave, the fifth, the fourth, ordinary fractions, real numbers.” I gestured wildly. “But a complex number is the sum of a real part and an imaginary part.”

He crouched in his chair, gazing silently past my shoulder, picking his lips.

I shook my head once more. “In music, Ian... how can you have a harmonic ratio with an imaginary component?” I turned around. “Anyway, I’m off to bed.” I walked to the bathroom.

He came after me and grabbed my arm. “Richard...?” He looked at me with a frown on his face and genuine confusion in his eyes. “In music, Richard... how can you hear a palace?”

This story was first published in The Elastic Book of Numbers (Elastic Press 2005), which won the British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology in 2006.

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 i
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Aurora in Four Voices by Catherine Asaro
  2. The Imaginary by Isaac Asimov
  3. Private i by S. R. Algernon
  4. The Imaginary Number by Yizhak Oren
  5. Six Thought Experiments Concerning the Nature of Computation by Rudy Rucker
  6. Diamond Dogs by Alastair Reynolds
  7. Another New Math by Alex Kasman
  8. The Exception by Alex Kasman
  9. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  10. Mine the Primes by Julian Todd
Ratings for i:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
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)