a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

The Bones of Time (1996)
Kathleen Ann Goonan

A young 21st century mathematician named Cen (short for Century) Kalakaua falls in love with a 19th century Hawaiian princess when they meet through an unusual temporal phenomenon. He becomes obsessed with developing a mathematical theory of time which will allow him to see her again and stay with her.

In terms of math there isn't too much to say about this book. It is not that math is not discussed is. Cen is described as being on the verge of a discovery, and that feeling is palpable and nicely developed in the book. But, the ideas themselves are never described in a way that makes any sense. (I begin to wonder whether the words even mean anything to the author.) We are told that "time is a fractal", and that this all has something to do with Roger Penrose's theory of quantum consciousness. We meet a few math professors (one who is gay and becomes Cen's best friend after a failed attempt at seducing him, and another who is a woman that has been corrupted by working for the evil corporation IS). The word "proof" is thrown around a lot too, but she certainly seems to be misusing it. She uses the word "proof" to mean "theorem", "theory" and "problem". One does not "solve" a proof, and if Cen was looking for a way to figure out how to "jump the fractal" to join the princess, he would probably be able to get by without any proofs (as do many theoretical physicists who are satisfied with a usable theory even if it is unproven or unprovable.)

In another subplot, the daughter of a big-wig at the evil space exploring corporation IS has helped a clone of Kamehameha, the first king of Hawaii, to escape an attempt to kill him and is running around Asia just trying to stay alive. In Tibet, they meet a woman who turns out to be a brilliant theoretical physicist and the Dalai Lama. Then, the young clone turns out to also be a mathematician, trying to finish Cen's "proofs".

I feel as if I learned a lot about Hawaii -- both about the current status and the history of native Hawaiians and the way in which the islands came to be controlled by Europe and the US. However, as with most historical fiction, I am not sure after reading it how much of what I now "know" is real and how much was made up by the author.

In a sense, this book is really a fantasy romance that uses garbled mathematical physics to transform it into science fiction. There is much to recommend it (some nice SF touches in the future, like the automated bus system in Hawaii, and of course the tropical romance), but I cannot help feeling that there were some good ideas here that were not fully utilized.

At first I was a bit frustrated by the ending of the book which leaves many of the storylines unresolved. In fact, it seems as if the whole book is just a set up for a punchline that never comes. Perhaps the author intended/intends to write a sequel. However, after thinking up my own endings, I'm now quite satisfied.

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 The Bones of Time
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum
  2. Conceiving Ada by Lynn Hershman-Leeson
  3. Singer Distance by Ethan Chatagnier
  4. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  5. The Loom of God: Mathematical Tapestries at the Edge of Time by Clifford Pickover
  6. Oracle by Greg Egan
  7. Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
  8. A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions by Kim Stanley Robinson
  9. Doctor Who: The Turing Test by Paul Leonard
  10. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Ratings for The Bones of Time:
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)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Science Fiction,
MotifGenius, Academia, Proving Theorems, Time Travel, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful, Romance,
TopicMathematical Physics, Chaos/Fractals,

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)