a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Misfit (1939)
Robert A. Heinlein
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

A crew of misfits ships out to the asteroid belt. One member turns out to be a misfit among the misfits: he's a mathematical prodigy. His skills prove to be very valuable.


Contributed by Donald Hackler

This is a classic Heinlein story, focusing on his constant theme of totally competent and complete individual. The title character, one Andrew Jackson Libby, has reprise appearances in at least two later novels, "Methusalah's Children" and "Time Enough for Love". Libby is portrayed as being one of those rare, but valuable, mathematical geniuses. The difference from the usual portrayal, is that he may be a tad focused, but is still perfectly able to function in the world. In other words, he is not the typical one-dimensional mad scientist.

Of course, the details of Libby's thought processes are not explained (how could they be?). The other mathematically interesting thing here is a fairly good exposition of basic celestial mechanics (I believe they are calling it astrodynamics, these days) and some other engineering mathematics. When you consider that the story was published in 1939, when space travel was widely derided as utter bunk, this is quite an accomplishment.

I stumbled across this story in an anthology in the mid-60's, as I was just entering high school. I'd always done well in math (and in other subjects), but this story actually whetted my interest in mathematics, in terms of its being useful for something besides passing a required course. In fact, I now make my living as a mathematician and engineering/scientific programmer.

Contributed by Robert W. Franson

One of my favorite Heinlein characters -- Andrew Jackson "Slipstick" Libby.

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Works Similar to Misfit
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Methuselah's Children by Robert A. Heinlein
  2. Time, Like an Ever Rolling Stream by Judith Moffett
  3. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  4. And He Built a Crooked House by Robert A. Heinlein
  5. The Year of the Jackpot by Robert A. Heinlein
  6. Blowups Happen by Robert A. Heinlein
  7. The Feeling of Power by Isaac Asimov
  8. Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein
  9. The Cube Root of Conquest by Rog Phillips
  10. The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
Ratings for Misfit:
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:
3.5/5 (4 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.2/5 (5 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)