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Return from the Stars (1961)
Stanislaw Lem
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This book contains some of the most realistic sounding fictional mathematics I have ever read, as well as some very high praise for mathematics (from a fictional character). In this book, an astronaut returns from a 10 year mission (though it took 127 Earth years because of relativistic effects, so everyone he knew is dead) to learn that much has changed in his absence. Most notably, although his mission seemed important when he left, nobody finds it or him especially interesting any more. He explains how he became interested in mathematics during the trip:

(quoted from Return from the Stars)

I only came to understand this there. Because mathematics stands above everything. The works of Abel and Kronecker are as good today as they were four hundred years ago, and it will always be so. New roads arise, but the old ones lead on. They do not become overgrown. There...there you have eternity. Only mathematics does not fear it. Up there, I understood how final it is. And strong."

The fictional mathematics comes in the form of a conversation between the astronaut and an elderly mathematician who, by coincidence, he had met as a young boy before his flight:

(quoted from Return from the Stars)

"You haven't heard of Igalli's studies, I suppose?" [asks the elderly mathematician].
"No, what are they?" [the astronaut].
"The theory of the discontinuous antipole."
"I don't know anything about an antipole. What is it?"
"Retronihilation. From this came parastatics."
"I never even heard of these terms."
"Of course, for it originated sixty years ago. But that was only the beginning of gravitology."
"I can see that I will have to do some homework," I said. "Gravitology -- that's the theory of gravitation?"
"Much more. It can only be explained using mathematics. Have you studied Appiano and Froom?"
"Well, then you should have no difficulty. These are metagen expansions in an n-dimensional, configurational, degenerative series."
"What are you saying? Didn't Skriabin prove that there are no metagens other than the variational?"
"Yes. A very elegant proof. But this, you see, is transcontinuous."
"Impossible! That would...but it must have opened up a whole new world!"

Contributed by Michael

I doubt it has any math value at all. But very inspirational for everybody who dreamt to become a mathematician or a physicist at the time I read it back in ~ 1968. Everybody was dreaming about travelling in time or to the stars. First time I read it in Ukrainian (best translation ever) the language which is very close to the original (Polish).I also suggust to read Solaris or watch the russian version of the movie.

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Works Similar to Return from the Stars
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin
  2. The Martian by Andy Weir
  3. His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem
  4. The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
  5. The Extraordinary Hotel or the Thousand and First Journey of Ion the Quiet by Naum Ya. Vilenkin
  6. Eversion by Alastair Reynolds
  7. The Singularities by John Banville
  8. Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein
  9. Bellwether by Connie Willis
  10. Contact by Carl Sagan
Ratings for Return from the Stars:
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:
1.75/5 (4 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.25/5 (4 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifMath as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful,
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)