a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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 Pop Quiz (2005) Alex Kasman (click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
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An algebraic geometer is called in when messages from an alien spacecraft appear to be asking questions about projective varieties. Though it may at first appear to be another "mathematics as a common language for first contact with aliens"-story, its purpose is actually to comment on one unexpected use of the internet. (See note below, but be warned that it contains "spoilers" that will give away important features of the story. You'll probably enjoy it more if you read the story first.)

Of course, this story is completely fictional and some might even say that it is ‘far fetched.' But, it has more of a basis in reality than you might think! As a professor of mathematics, I quite frequently get e-mail from college, high school and middle school students from around the US and around the world, asking for help with their homework assignments. It is sometimes rather specific (e.g., “What is the formula for the 2-soliton solution to the KdV equation?”). One simply said: “I have to write a paper on surfaces. Can you give me information?” A local student here in Charleston wrote to the college and said that he had a report due in two weeks and had done nothing yet. He was hoping that for his report, one of the professors here would go to his class and make a presentation! The point is this: having been given access to the internet, a method for communicating almost instantaneously with experts in any part of the world, these students prefer to ask strangers for help rather than do the work themselves. And, with the huge number of people available to them on the internet, I wouldn't be surprised if they can generally find at least one person willing to do their assignment for them.

Some of the mathematics presented in this story is real. In particular, the stuff about homogeneous coordinates for projective space, Grassmannians and Grassmannian duality. (I left out a little detail about the grassmannian duality: we need a little bit of extra structure, like an inner-product on the underlying vector space, for the duality to exist.) However, the stuff Sarah figures out in answering the third question is completely made up, and probably makes no sense if you think about it carefully.

 More information about this work can be found at another page on this Website. (Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Pop Quiz
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
1. Singer Distance by Ethan Chatagnier
2. The Lure by Bill Napier
3. Dragon's Egg by Robert L. Forward
4. The Unwilling Professor by Arthur Porges
5. Contact by Carl Sagan
6. Signal to Noise by Eric S. Nylund
7. Conversations on Mathematics with a Visitor from Outer Space by David Ruelle
8. Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
9. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
10. Monster by Alex Kasman
Ratings for Pop Quiz: