a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Death Qualified: A Mystery of Chaos (1992)
Kate Willhelm

The book only becomes science fiction towards the end. For most of it, it follows the format of a mystery in which there are several murders (which remain mysterious to the reader until near to the end) and a team of investigators including a private eye and a defense lawyer. Mathematics becomes implicated relatively early on and so the lawyer seeks out the help of a brilliant mathematician who explains a bit about fractals to her, after which they start sleeping together.

More specifically, the heroine, the defense attorney, must represent a woman accused of killing her husband who returned suddenly after a long absence. It turns out that he was part of a research project involving a psychologist and a Nobel prize winning mathematician. (NB: Unlike Ratner's Star in which the author makes a point of the fact that the Nobel prize received by Twillig is the first prize in mathematics, Willhelm apparently does not know that there is no Nobel in math.) They were performing experiments in which fractal images are used to "expand" subjects' minds so that they develop stunning abilities.

Despite the cover (a splash of colorful fractals), the subtitle (a mystery of chaos) and the presence of several mathematicians (the heroine's lover as well as several of the "villains") there is not much math here. The little that there is is a vague discussion of fractals (no real discussion of chaos at all).

I'd hate to discourage other people from reading this book, especially if you have liked any of the other books by this prolific author, but the truth is that neither I nor my wife liked it very much. There were certainly some good points, but mostly it seemed like a not very interesting idea that was padded out to be a novel. Moreover, we found the characters' motivations a bit hard to identify. In particular, the first murder (an experimenter killing a child supposedly because he was jealous of the child's tremendous ability) seems a bit far fetched and the actions of another character (a gay, AIDS fearing, homicidal maniac who sycophantically adores a leading female character) make no sense at all.

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Works Similar to Death Qualified: A Mystery of Chaos
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The God Wave by Patrick Hemstreet
  2. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  3. The Turing Option by Harry Harrison / Marvin Minksy
  4. The Investigation by Stanislaw Lem
  5. The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen
  6. The Adventure of the Russian Grave by William Barton / Michael Capobianco
  7. Chaos in Wonderland: Visual Adventures in a Fractal World by Clifford Pickover
  8. Moriarty by Modem by Jack Nimersheim
  9. Context by John Meaney
  10. The Fatal Equation by Arthur Strangeland
Ratings for Death Qualified: A Mystery of Chaos:
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 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreMystery, Science Fiction,

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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)