a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Writing on the Wall (2005)
Steve Stanton

When he was eight years old, David was visited by an image of his future self, causing him to write mathematical formulas on the wall. (Unfortunately, his parents paint over it before he has a chance to memorize it.) He was then recognized as a mathematical prodigy, but grew increasingly anti-social. Despite his near obsession with rediscovering this equation and the time travel mechanism it apparently allows, he somehow gets a job at the University of Toronto and gets married. But, his wife tires of being married to him. By his own admission "he was completely devoid of social grace and manners...he was completely self-absorbed and useless as a companion."

The conclusion is quite satisfying from an SF point of view. In particular, the way in which he makes his discovery is cute and "mind bending". Mathematical physics terminology is tossed around, but none of it means much. The important point is the strange time loop that occurs and his reaction to realizing what has happened. There is also supposed to be some resolution in the story of his relationship with his wife, but that struck me as less satisfying.

However, I am so tired of the anti-social mathematician stereotype that I have trouble enjoying the story at all. I think that if this was the only story I had read containing this tired cliche, I probably would have liked it much more. As it is, I am just adding it to my growing list of works of fiction that serve (unintentionally) to reinforce an unfair prejudice against mathematicians among the general public.

This story appeared in a collection of Canadian Science Fiction called "Tesseracts Nine".

More information about this work can be found at
(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 The Writing on the Wall
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Location, velocity, end point by Matt Tighe
  2. Pure Math by John Timson
  3. Beyond the Hallowed Sky: Book One of the Lightspeed Trilogy by Ken MacLeod
  4. The Ah of Life by Banks Helfrich (Writer and Director)
  5. The Whole Mess by Jack Skillingstead
  6. Archive (Travelers, Season 3 Episode 8) by Ken Kabatoff / Brad Wright
  7. The Janus Equation by Steven G. Spruill
  8. The Central Tendency by Daniel Kaysen
  9. Nanunculus by Ian Watson
  10. Singleton by Greg Egan
Ratings for The Writing on the Wall:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifProdigies, Anti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Time Travel, Romance,
TopicMathematical Physics,
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)