a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Monster (2005)
Alex Kasman
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

A story about group theory, plagiarism, the untapped potential of a collaboration between mathematics and marketing, the bleak financial future of academia, and the Monster.

Contributed by Sonja Dezman

This story talks about cheating. I won't tell you the plot of the story, because I don't want to include “spoilers” again. All I can tell you is that a professor of mathematics (Quasia Fine) once had two tests, one after another. One student took the test on one day and another student took the test a day later. She only changed the 3rd question and she found out that her student was cheating. That means that he wrote the answer to the 3rd question that was correct for the previous test and not his test. If you ask me, that is not cheating! That is professor's stupidity! It is completely normal to ask somebody who has already taken the test what the questions were like. Don't we all do that?!? [Note: I don't know about Slovenia, Sonja, but in the US this is definitely considered cheating. Still, see the note below about the particular cheating incident in this story.]

Anyway, Quasia Fine reports that student (the fact that he was cheating) and he is thrown out of college (I'm not sure whether this is the correct expression). After some time, Quasia gets a phone call. A man, Gordon Klein, tells her that he has something to show her. The story tells us what groups are. We also learn what the Monster group is.

“Monster” talks about cheating, as I have already said. It also talks about plagiarism. Quasia Fine gets an important paper on Monster groups. She thinks that the author is dead and decides to publish them under her own name. She gets caught and punished.

There is much more to say about this story. It is a mystery, a detective story and many more, all in one short story. But you'll have to read it for yourself. I'm not telling you everything;). What is interesting in this story is that the University (college) has sponsors. It reminds me of sports. Sportsman have sponsors. Well, in this story, professors have sponsors. That is interesting. Mathematics is presented in a new way.

One more thing. The main character is a woman, again. It is interesting, though, that women that Alex Kasman uses are strong, powerful and equal to men. In this story, a woman is equal to men, she is a woman mathematician, she is even the chair of the committee. But she is weaker! Although she can't stand cheating, she does it herself! She gets weak - convinces herself that it would be OK if she puts her name under somebody else's work.

As a conclusion I can say that “Monster” is an interesting story that deals with groups. A lot of things happen. The end is definitely not expected. And last but not least, mathematics is presented in a “futuristic” way + women have both power and weaknesses. BTW Does Gordon Klein have anything to do with “Klein bottle”? Is it only coincidence that the names are the same?

Nearly all of the names in this story are intended to be puns (like Quasia Fine) The name "Gordon Klein" refers to the Klein-Gordon Equation. (Not to be confused with the Sine-Gordon Equation, whose name is an intentional pun on the former.) But, I don't think it is connected to the "Klein" of Klein bottle fame.

As for the cheating incident in the story, I did intentionally cook it up so that the student's culpability would be ambiguous. Although I am quite certain that finding out what questions will be on a test in advance (even from someone who took the test earlier) is a form of cheating, this situation was a bit different. The student did not seek out the information, but found that the professor had left the first student's exam on his desk where the second student was left to take the exam. This may sound unlikely, but it really happened in a class I TA'ed as a grad student! The professor let a student take a make-up exam in his office, and he had left another exam in plain site on his desk. My viewpoint on this is similar to the viewpoint of the honors board in the story: the professor must share some of the blame in this situation....and that is at least in part what this story is about.

Contributed by Sonja Dezman

I can't really discuss cheating/not cheating with you. I have to admit that. In Slovenia it is not so bad to cheat. I mean, we all do it. In school of course. We learn it in primary school, we are quite good at it in high school and in the university we are almost professionals:). We don't see it as something wrong. Maybe it is because we are taught in a system that lets us cheat. I know that you look differently at cheating. Our foreign professors are completely shocked when they even think about cheating and they would never in their dreams think about us doing it. As far as cheating is concerned, we live in two different worlds!!! I'll probably never be able to understand "Monster" completely, because I can't imagine those situations being cheating! So, what do you call when a student brings notes to the exam? Or when two students are copying their answers? Or talking during the exam? Switcing exams? Don't you think this is more like cheating? Finding out what the previous exam was like is not cheating! At least not in Slovenia! I hope that I didn't offend anybody by saying that "this is not cheating but professor's stupidity". I live in a different environment, that's all. Sorry!

It would be interesting to hear from students in other countries as well to see whether they feel similarly about cheating. From the point of view of a professor in the US, however, I can assure you that we take cheating quite seriously. But perhaps we're not quite thinking about the same situation. I would not consider it cheating for a student to look at the exam I gave in a course the previous semester or the previous year. In fact, I generally give them samples of previous tests to use for study purposes. In contrast, when I am teaching two sections of the same class during the same semester, I do consider it cheating for a student in the later section to ask a friend in the earlier section for information about the test. Perhaps this is not a very serious form of cheating, and it would be difficult for me to ever detect it, but it is cheating nonetheless. HOWEVER, that is not what happened in the story. In the story, the student who was caught cheating was taking a make-up exam in the professor's office and found that there was a copy of the test already completed by another student sitting there on the desk, and he merely copied the answers from the other student's paper without even reading the questions himself. That is what happened both in the real incident I remember from Boston University and in the story as I created it. And, although I agree that the professor is at least partly to blame for leaving the other test out in the open, I do also think the student really cheated.

Contributed by Mike Breen

I've read your MAA book "Reality Conditions," which I enjoyed very much. I don't know if you listen to the NPR show "Car Talk," but this week Click and Clack talked about arranging rumble strips on the road so that they would generate different songs when cars drove over them. It reminded me of your story, "Monster". Of course, given the theme of your story, it would be perfect if they've read your story and stole the idea.

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Works Similar to Monster
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. A Proof of God by Colin Adams
  2. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
  3. Mangum, P.I. by Colin Adams
  4. The Adventures of Topology Man by Alex Kasman
  5. On the Quantum Theoretic Implications of Newton's Alchemy by Alex Kasman
  6. Year of the Rat by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  7. Final Exam by Robert Dawson
  8. Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker
  9. The Exception by Alex Kasman
  10. life.exe by Jason Rogers
Ratings for Monster:
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:
5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifCool/Heroic Mathematicians, Academia, Proving Theorems, Female Mathematicians, Math Education,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Real Mathematics, Fictional Mathematics,
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)