a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Red Zen (2007)
Jason Earls
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

A man travels to another planet in an attemp to resolve a bizarre memory problem in this absurdist science fiction novel. As in his other works, Earls includes tidbits of computational number theory. For instance, the protagonist encounters a magic square whose row sum is 666 and he attempts to memorizes the decimal expansions of transcendental numbers such as 22π+4e considering it part of his Buddhist religion. (Presumably, this is a pun on the mathematical and spiritual meanings of the word "transcendental"!)

It may seem as if these are rather trivial bits of mathematics (not important theorems or useful new definitions). Rather, it is what the author calls "recreational" mathematics. In fact, the book says

(quoted from Red Zen)

Math can be beautiful. But I like it better when it is campy or cheesy. The mathematical concepts and objects a real mathematician would think of as useless or silly are the ones I like best. Later I will give you examples of what I mean by campy math.

Later examples of such campy math is finding primes in the decimal expansion of 1/89 or a square array of digits which spells out "Red Zen" when the 9's are colored differently than the other digits and is used to build a prime number. (In an appendix he promises to build such a "textual prime" to make any picture or phrase that you might want.)

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Works Similar to Red Zen
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Self-Reference ENGINE by Toh EnJoe
  2. Borzag and the Numerical Apocalypse by Jason Earls
  3. Genghis Khan and 888 by Jason Earls
  4. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
  5. I Sin Every Number by Jason Earls
  6. Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker
  7. The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine by Greg Egan
  8. Euler's Equation by Neil Hudson
  9. 2+2=5 by Rudy Rucker / Terry Bisson
  10. The Secret Number by Igor Teper
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GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifInsanity, Religion,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,

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Exciting News: The total number of works of mathematical fiction listed in this database recently reached a milestone. The 1,500th entry is The Man of Forty Crowns by Voltaire. Thanks to Vijay Fafat for writing the summary of that work (and so many others). I am also grateful to everyone who has contributed to this website. Heck, I'm grateful to everyone who visited the site. Thank you!

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)