a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Babirusa (2022)
Arula Ratnakar
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

One can briefly summarize this story without mentioning anything about mathematics: It concerns ethically questionable experiments conducted by a company called REMedy that link people through a “dream sharing machine”. Upon learning that one of the participants in the study has been in the machine for an unreasonably long time leaving his son essentially orphaned, an employee of REMedy named Roop attempts a rescue…and things do not go well.

The scenes presented from the viewpoint of the experimental subjects have the tense feeling of a surreal escape room. And those from Roop’s point of view seem to be designed to give us a glimpse into the dark side of the whole research enterprise.

Hopefully, the real world of neuroscience research is not quite so horrific as what we see here, but Ratnakar is in a position to know: The author is a neuroscience research assistant at Boston University and so a lot of focus is understandably on the psychological and biological aspects. But, she manages to squeeze a bit of mathematics into it as well. The architect who designed REMedy’s facilities (essentially a whole city) incorporated structures inspired by the octonions, and this abstract mathematical structure is realized to an even greater extent in the virtual world inhabited by the experimental subjects. (More specifically, paths that people can follow to move around and a melody shown in musical notation are determined by a diagram representing the multiplication table of the eight unit octonions.) Another slightly mathematical aspect is that Roop’s job involves the use of Shamir’s secret sharing algorithm (which has the result of keeping the employees from understanding what it is they are doing at work).

The experimental subjects are called “Down”, “Strange”, “Charm”, and “Higgs” apparently in reference to to the quarks and mass-giving boson in particle physics. I’m not sure if this is supposed to resonate with the octonions that are mentioned. Indeed, I know that some have speculated that the standard model should somehow be connected to the algebraic structure of the octonions. However, I haven’t actually seen such a connection made rigorous and so to me it seemed like just one more obscure academic fact “shoehorned” into the story.

IMHO Viewed as a work of mathematical fiction, this one is inferior to the author’s novella Axiom of Dream. They are similar in many ways, but the mathematical ideas arise more naturally in the more recent work.

This story appeared in the February 2022 issue of Clarkesworld and (at least as I am writing this) is available for free online. Thanks to the author for writing to bring it to my attention.

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 Babirusa
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Axiom of Dreams by Arula Ratnakar
  2. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  3. Fermat's Room (La Habitacion de Fermat) by Luis Piedrahita / Rodrigo Sopeña
  4. Gödel Numbers by J.W. Swanson
  5. The Blind Geometer by Kim Stanley Robinson
  6. The Phantom Scientist [Le Chercher Phantôme] by Robin Cousin
  7. The Fear Index by Robert Harris
  8. Void Star by Zachary Mason
  9. The Fringe (Episode: The Equation) by J.R. Orci (Screenplay) / David H. Goodman (Screenplay)
  10. The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke / Frederik Pohl
Ratings for Babirusa:
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)

GenreScience Fiction, Adventure/Espionage,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
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)