a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Ratner's Star (1976)
Don DeLillo
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!

Billy Terwilliger (aka Twillig) is not your typical 14 year old boy. True, he is beginning to get interested in sex and thinks that the word "fart" is entertaining, but he is also a number theorist and the recipient of the first Nobel prize in mathematics!

This novel follows Twillig as he gets accustomed to a secretive think-tank at which he has been hired. We learn that the goal of this research center (and the impressive scientists there from many disciplines) is to decode a brief message (a series of dots and dashes, like Morse code) that has been received from a distant source: Ratner's Star.

Not only does Twillig's area of interest (numbers he calls "zorgs") prove useful in this investigation, they also lead to a discovery in mathematical physics (all of which offends Twillig's view of math as beautiful and useless). This passage is taken from the last chapter:

(quoted from Ratner's Star)

Mainwaring edged his way to Billy's side.
"We used zorgs," he whispered"
"For what?"
"Identifying the mohole."
"Zorgs are useless."
"We used them," Mainwaring said.
"Practically nobody knows what they even are."
"Softly knows, doesn't he?"
"He's one of the few."
"Softly explained how we might use zorgs. I briefed my sylphing teams. Without zorgs we would never have found the mohole."
"Except Softly wanted us to use them in tracking back the signal. But we didn't need them for that. We needed them for the mohole."
"A hole is an unoccupied negative engergy state," Mainwaring whispered. "Hole theory involves `pair creation' which is the simultaneous ceration of a particle-antiparticle pair. Holes move, just as moholes seem to move, just as a discrete partcile can separate iteself from a continuously dense array, leaving behind its antiparticle or hole. What Softly pointed out was that zorgs provide a perfect working mathematical model of hole theory....We had to learn to view zorgs as events rather than numbers, just as particles are events rather than things. The discrete-continuous quality of zorgs is what really helped us work out the necessary mathematics of Moholean relativity and made mohole indentification practically inevitable."

Don DeLillo is a well known, and critically acclaimed author in literary circles. But, Ratner's Star, his attempt at mathematical fiction, did not please all of his fans. (See the reviews at Amazon, for instance.)

Contributed by Cassel Sloan

"This so called book is the worst piece of junk I have ever read. It barely has a plot, instead it repeats the same stupid things over and over again. The main character jumps to completely unfounded conclusions. All in all it is probably one of the worst novels ever written."

Contributed by luke

One of my all time favourites, for ever and ever. Constituting an almost unremarked break in the history of western narrative, Ratner's Star finds DeLillo freely borrowing and bending the structures of Lewis Carroll, sending little Billy Twillig through and down the post-contemporary Scientific-Industrial looking glass and bunny hole. The language is stunning and exquisitely wrought; so good I sometimes have to put it down to recompose myself, like staring at the sun.

Contributed by jay

I'm not sure how I stumbled across this book, but I read it in high school, when I was a nerd studying math history for fun. DeLillo had me convinced that he was quite a knowledgeable math afficianado, not only because of the variety of physics- and number-theory-related content, but also because of the way his characters related to and dealt with these issues. Regarding literary sediment, I can't vouch that this book is anything more than a 'typical DeLillo' book, except that it speaks to the scientist in ways seldom found in fiction. Regarding mathematical content, I'm surprised that the title includes no allusion to math (as far as i know..).

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Works Similar to Ratner's Star
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. At Ocean by Oliver Serang
  2. Resistance is Futile by Jenny T. Colgan
  3. End of Days by Eric Walters
  4. Time, Like an Ever Rolling Stream by Judith Moffett
  5. Pi in the Sky by Rudy Rucker
  6. Distances by Vandana Singh
  7. The Lure by Bill Napier
  8. His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem
  9. A Catastrophe Machine by Carter Scholz
  10. Gödel geht [Gödel's Exit] by Andreas Findig
Ratings for Ratner's Star:
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:
3.75/5 (8 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.88/5 (8 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifGenius, Prodigies, Aliens,
TopicMathematical Physics,

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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)