a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Micromegas (1752)
François Marie Arouet de Voltaire
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Highly Rated!

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

"Micromegas" is a Voltaire short story, obviously inspired by Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The title character comes from a planet orbiting Sirius, and stands 120,000 feet tall. Before spelling out Micromegas' proportions in numerical detail, Voltaire singles out those of his readers who are mathematicians, "people always useful to the public". (It is unclear if Voltaire is being sarcastic or not.)

Micromegas goes on a tour of the stars, and ends up visiting Saturn, where he is amused by the tininess of the inhabitants, only 6,000 feet tall. He befriends one Saturnian in particular, and together the two visit the inner solar system. Upon visiting Earth, it takes them a great deal of difficulty to recognize humanity and then communicate with a few members. Amongst other events, the humans triangulate Micromegas and thereby measure him by means of trigonometry, much to his astonishment.

Of separate interest are the various Swiftian references. For example, "Dr. Swift" is referred to by name once, and Mars is again assumed to have two moons.

Contributed by Jameson

As a short story, and as a meaningful manner in which to inspire thought, Micromegas is an excellent piece. Mathematically, how-ever, I believe there are quite a few fallacies. At the time, I believe, very few people, even seasoned mathematicians, would have questioned the validity of the figures given, and the fact that the presence of both Micromegas and his Saturnian colleague on our relatively tiny planet would have been devastating. Suspending dis-belief just a bit, though, results in quite a thought-provoking read... I first came-upon Micromegas when I was 11 years old (I am now in college), and it has been one of my favourite stories to share ever-since.

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Works Similar to Micromegas
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
  2. The Man of Forty Crowns by François Marie Arouet de Voltaire
  3. The Balloon Hoax by Edgar Allan Poe
  4. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbott
  5. Round the Moon by Jules Verne
  6. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  7. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  8. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
  9. Topsy-turvy (Sans Dessus Dessous) by Jules Verne
  10. The Franklin's Tale (in The Canterbury Tales) by Geoffrey Chaucer
Ratings for Micromegas:
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:
3.8/5 (5 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.17/5 (6 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MediumShort Stories,

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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)