a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Memory of Whiteness (1985)
Kim Stanley Robinson
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Far in the future of the human race, the brilliant mathematician Holywelkin discovers a new physical theory that allows us to understand particle physics and build the amazing "whitsuns" which in turn let us to colonize the entire solar system. If that were not enough, he also spent his final years as a musician and composer, inventing the remarkable instrument known as "Orchestra". As this book unfolds, the current "maestro" begins to discover that these two interests (Holywelkin's mathematical physics and his music) are not unrelated. In fact, they are intertwined in a way that only the members of the mysterious "Grey" cult seem to understand.

The description of Holywelkin's theory is interesting (though, by necessity, not very detailed). Historical background is provided that includes real results (such as the Kaluza-Klein theory) making the theory seem not only interesting but even plausible. There is also much discussion of mathematical determinism -- the question of whether a mathematical theory could entirely predict the future and what the consequences of such a result would be.

I've read some professional reviews that complained about this book and its writing style, but I have no such complaints. In my opinion, it is a nicely written piece of science fiction with significant mathematical and musical themes. (I can't help wondering whether it partially inspired Greg Egan's Distress, written 10 years later and similar in so many ways.)

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Works Similar to The Memory of Whiteness
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Last Starship from Earth by John Boyd
  2. Distress by Greg Egan
  3. Touch the Water, Touch the Wind by Amos Oz
  4. The Blind Geometer by Kim Stanley Robinson
  5. A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions by Kim Stanley Robinson
  6. Artifact by Gregory Benford
  7. Drode's Equations by Richard Grant
  8. Bellwether by Connie Willis
  9. From the Earth to the Moon [De la Terre à la Lune, trajet direct en 97 heures 20 minutes] by Jules Verne
  10. Doctor Who: The Turing Test by Paul Leonard
Ratings for The Memory of Whiteness:
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 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.5/5 (2 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
TopicMathematical Physics,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)