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The Imaginary Number (1956)
Yizhak Oren

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

In this peculiar and humorous story, a complete stranger shows up at physicist Benjamin's door, with an imaginary tale of their childhood friendship, marriage to twin sisters, and his deed to certain property from before the war and Israeli statehood, and he asks Benjamin's help to locate it.

Confronted with reality, the imaginary takes a beating and the stranger becomes depressed, while Benjamin and his wife take greater and greater interest in the stanger's imaginary past. With a long historical and philosophical appeal to the mathematical and physical meaning of sqrt(-1), Benjamin convinces a clerk in the appropriate bureaucracy to use imaginary numbers to identify the stranger's imaginary deed, and so make everyone happy.

Everyone, that is, except the higher bureaucrats. Apparently, they have no imagination.

"Oren" is the pseudonym of Israeli author Yitzhak Nadel. This story was first published in Hebrew in 1956 and appeared in English translation as part of his collection of stories published in 1986 also called "The Imaginary Number".

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Works Similar to The Imaginary Number
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Clockwork by Leslie Bigelow
  2. A Fable for Moderns by Lord Dunsany
  3. The Imaginary by Isaac Asimov
  4. Touch the Water, Touch the Wind by Amos Oz
  5. The Root and the Ring by Wyman Guin
  6. Flower Arrangement by Rosel George Brown
  7. The Snowball Effect by Katherine Maclean
  8. The Higher Mathematics by Martin C. Wodehouse
  9. Say Wen by Ellis Parker Butler
  10. A Matter of Geometry by Ared White
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TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumShort Stories,

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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)