a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Killing Time (2000)
Frank Tallis

In this noir thriller, a British math grad student discovers antique lab equipment which allows him to see into the past and winds up murdering his girlfriend. Sex (explicitly described) and interpersonal relationships seem to be a greater focus of the book than the math, the murder or the science fiction elements, but each has an integral part to play here.

In one side story, we learn quite a bit about the (anti-)protagonist's thesis advisor, whose name happens to be Bela Bartok. (Funny, I had a character named Igor Stravinsky in one of my stories!) Killing Time presents the view that, since mathematicians "peak" early, a thesis advisor is possessive about the work produced by his/her grad students. (I'm not sure to what extent this view is justified. I can certainly think of individual examples in which this appears to have been the case. However, I've also read articles arguing that the whole idea that mathematicians are past their prime after age 40 is a bogus stereotype.) Bartok is proud of some work he did when he was young, proving that there is a unique tiling of a certain obscure type. But during the course of the novel a young mathematician finds another such tiling, contradicting Bartok's earlier result. Through political manipulations, Bartok is able to ensure that the new result is not published (saving his own reputation, but also apparently rewarding the young guy with a position at Harvard).

Eventually, the protagonist winds up at Harvard collaborating with the mathematician who found the flaw in Bartok's work. They not only work successfully as co-authors on their math research, but also become wealthy using advanced mathematics to guide their investments.

I try to note when the mathematicians in mathematical fiction are portrayed as evil, anti-social or insane. In this case, I would say that the main character has all three traits. Of course, that makes the story more interesting. However, I continue to fear that the prevalence of these characteristics in mathematicians in fiction will mislead the readers into thinking that this is what mathematicians are really like. As far as I can tell, real mathematicians are no more likely to be insane, anti-social or evil than people in any other profession, despite the impression one may get from fiction.

It appears that this book has only been published in Britain, but I was able to obtain copies in the US from used book sellers.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Killing Time
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Solid Geometry by Ian McEwan
  2. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  3. Brain Dead by Charles Beaumont (writer) / Adam Simon (director)
  4. Nymphomation by Jeff Noon
  5. Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker
  6. Straw Dogs by Sam Peckinpah (Director)
  7. Pi by Darren Aronofsky (director)
  8. Mailman by J. Robert Lennon
  9. To Walk the Night by William Sloane
  10. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
Ratings for Killing Time:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction, Horror,
MotifEvil mathematicians, Anti-social Mathematicians, Mental Illness, Academia, Time Travel,
TopicMathematical Finance,

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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)