a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Turjan of Miir (The Dying Earth) (1950)
Jack Vance
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

The classic fantasy novel "The Dying Earth" is actually more like a collection of short stories, separate vignettes that share some common features but stand entirely alone. The first of these stories is Turjan of Miir, about a student of the occult who wishes to create artificial life. After several failed "experiments", he consults the wise Pandelume who introduces him to a powerful type of magic called "mathematics":

(quoted from Turjan of Miir (The Dying Earth))

In this fashion did Turjan enter his apprenticeship to Pandelume. Day and far into the opalescent Embelyon night he worked under Pandelume's unseen tutelage. He learned the secret of renewed youth, many spells of the ancients, and a strange abstract lore that Pandelume termed "Mathematics."

"Within this instrument," said Pandelume, "resides the Universe. Passive in itself and not of sorcery, it elucidates every problem, each phase of existence, all the secrets of time and space. Your spells and runes are built upon its power and codified according to a great underlying mosaic of magic. The design of this mosaic we cannot surmise; our knowledge is didactic, empirical, arbitrary. Phandaal glimpsed the pattern and so was able to formulate many of the spells which bear his name. I have endeavored through the ages to break the clouded glass, but so far my research has failed. He who discovers the pattern will know all of sorcery and be a man powerful beyond comprehension."

So Turjan applied himself to the study and learned many of the simpler routines.

"I find herein a wonderful beauty," he told Pandelume. "This is no science, this is art, where equations fall away to elements like resolving chords, and where always prevails a symmetry either explicit or multiplex, but always of a crystalline serenity."

There are a few other mild references to mathematics in the story, but the beautiful description quoted above is reason enough to list this story here on the Mathematical Fiction website. (Thanks to Fred Galvin for suggesting it!)

Contributed by Greg

This is a fantastic series of stories, straddling the line between science fiction and fantasy. Apart from its mathematical content (which is minimal) this story and its fellows have always inspired me to enter the sciences.

Contributed by Anonymous

This is one of my favorite passages in the Dying Earth books. I am by no means a math person, but had I heard this description in high school it may have changed my opinion.

Contributed by Anonymous

I just re-read this story yesterday. I always wished Vance would have gone into a little more detail on the relationship of the spells to the mathematics. But I'm not really sure that he actually had a theory about it. He loved to suggest ideas to the reader and let them fill in the details in their own minds.

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Works Similar to Turjan of Miir (The Dying Earth)
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Measure of Eternity by Sean McMullen
  2. The Cambist and Lord Iron by Daniel Abraham
  3. The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
  4. The Babelogic of Mathematics by Vijay Fafat
  5. Conjure Wife (Dark Ladies) by Fritz Leiber
  6. Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
  7. Matrices by Steven Nightingale
  8. An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors: Book One in the Risen Kingdoms by Curtis Craddock
  9. Mathemagics by Patricia Duffy Novak
  10. The Ghosts by Lord Dunsany
Ratings for Turjan of Miir (The Dying Earth):
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:
1.71/5 (7 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.43/5 (7 votes)

MotifMath as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful,
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)