MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Presque Vue (2021)
Tochi Onyebuchi
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A character deals with the voice in her head (which seems to like to do math), her aging parents, and her daughter.

I am grateful to Aidan Tompkins for bringing this short story to my attention, but neither of us is really certain whether it should be on this list of works of mathematical fiction to my attention. Since it is available free online, perhaps you could take a look at it now and let me know whether you think it should!

Here are the aspects of the story that are definitely mathematical:

  • Among the things the voice did for her was “unfurl the innards of a math proof”.
  • The voice was clearest when numbers were in front of her and gave her answers to trig problems too quickly. (It showed where holes could be poked in arguments of her classmates at university. But, it’s not clear to me whether that is a reference to mathematics. It could poke holes in their arguments in philosophy or literature classes too.)
  • It talks about expressing her life as an equation and searching for X.
  • It mentioned that “bone-setting” is (at least according to some etymologies) the origin of the word “algebra”.
  • When her father stops making sense, it is described as being “like a proof missing some of its connective tissues”.
I am not certain whether the character is a mathematician. She is in grad school and has a thesis advisor, but I didn’t see anywhere that it indicated what she was studying. Her daughter’s field was explicitly given as physics, but I couldn’t figure out whether Sam was getting a PhD in mathematics or something else.

The fact that she "hears voices" (well, "hears voice") and sees a psychiatrist about it might connect to the stereotype that links mathematicians and mental illness.

At the end of the story, her daughter brings in the idea of time travel and the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle, which is not mathematical itself even though discussions of time travel do sometimes involve math.

So, there you have it. Do you think this story is a work of mathematical fiction? I'm honestly not sure...

Contributed by Allan Goldberg

Based on my review of the story, I feel that the protagonist is a mathematician. All the references to her superior understanding (through the voice) of math in the protagonist's early life, make it reasonable to assume that she is a mathematician or a physicist. However, the latter occupation is unlikely since she is apparently unfamiliar with her daughter's work as a physicist.

The voice can be understood to be merely superior and selective mathematical intuition on the part of the protagonist, and does not imply that she is mad..

The story, though thin, IMHO. belongs in your database since the plot relies heavily on the metaphorical use of mathematics.

More information about this work can be found at www.uncannymagazine.com.
(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 Presque Vue
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Final Integer by Thomas Reed Willemain
  2. Letters From Incompleteness by Jonah Howell
  3. Mathe-Matti by Anuradha Mahasinghe
  4. The Decimal People by Zachary Shiffman
  5. The Monty Hall Problem by Rebekah Bergman
  6. Prime by Steve Erickson
  7. My Heart Belongs to Bertie by Helen DeWitt
  8. iPhone SE by Weike Wang
  9. Location, velocity, end point by Matt Tighe
  10. Alone with You in the Ether: A Love Story by Olivia Blake
Ratings for Presque Vue:
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 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
Genre
MotifMental Illness, Time Travel,
Topic
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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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)