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His Master's Voice (1968)
Stanislaw Lem
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

In this book, we follow the investigations of a team of scientists and mathematicians trying to figure out the meaning of an apparent "message" being sent through space. The novel is written with "tongue in cheek"; in fact it is probably intended to satire the scientific community. Those interested in mathematics might look to the mathematician's monologue (in Chapter 4) including comments such as:

(quoted from His Master's Voice)

One frequently encouters the sentiment that in mathematics, all that is needed is "naked ability", because the lack of it there cannot be hidden; while in other disciplines connections, favoritism, fashion and -- most of all -- the absence of that indisputability of proof which is supposed to characterize mathematics, cause a career to be the resultant vector of talents and conditions that are nonscientific. In vain have I tried to explain to such enviers that, alas, in our mathematical paradise things are not ideal. Cantor's beautifully classical theory of plurality was for many years ignored, and for quite unmathematical reasons.

There isn't much mathematics here aside from some elementary probability and information theory (the notion of a "random signal"). Mostly what I remember about this book is its discussion of the field of mathematics itself rather than any particular area of math. Here is some of the fictional mathematics that appears:

(quoted from His Master's Voice)

What I did I cannot present plainly, since our everyday language lacks the required concepts and words. I can only say, in general, that I studied the purely formal properties of the 'letter' -- treating it as an object mathematically interpreted -- for features that are of central interest in topological algebra and the algebra of groups. In doing this, I employed the transformation of transformational sets, which gives the so-called infragroups or Hogarth groups (named after me, since I was the one who discovered them). If I obtained, as a result, an 'open' structure, that would still prove nothing ... But it happened otherwise. The 'letter' closed beautifully for me, like an object separated from the rest of the world, or like a circular process ...

Contributed by Ed Norris

I thought this passage from the beginning of the 9th chapter of His Master's Voice was mathematically relevant. I'd like to think that mathematicians (and other knowledge workers) use a similar tactic, since it has been useful to me as a software developer.

"By the end of August, I was mentally drained, more drained, I think, than I had ever been. The creative potential, the capacity to solve problems, changes in a man in ebbs and flows, and over this he has little control. I had learned to apply a kind of test. I would read my own articles, those I considered the best. If I noticed in them lapses, gaps, if I saw that the thing could have been done better, my experiment was successful. If, however, I found myself reading with admiration, that meant I was in trouble."

p. 106 from the Northwestern University Press 3rd edition, 1999.

Thanks, Ed Norris

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Works Similar to His Master's Voice
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. At Ocean by Oliver Serang
  2. Pi in the Sky by Rudy Rucker
  3. Contact by Carl Sagan
  4. The Lure by Bill Napier
  5. Resistance is Futile by Jenny T. Colgan
  6. End of Days by Eric Walters
  7. Ratner's Star by Don DeLillo
  8. Applied Mathematical Theology by Gregory Benford
  9. The Extraordinary Hotel or the Thousand and First Journey of Ion the Quiet by Naum Ya. Vilenkin
  10. The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
Ratings for His Master's Voice:
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:
2.5/5 (6 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.67/5 (6 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
TopicFictional Mathematics,

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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)