a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Anathem (2008)
Neal Stephenson
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!

This ambitious novel takes place on a world in which it is the theoretical scientists and mathematicians (rather than the theologians as on our planet) who have cloistered themselves in ascetic communes, called "maths". They have little contact with the applied science and "lay people" on the outside. A good example of the unusual nature of this book is the scene in which a group of young adepts are being quizzed by an elder before they are allowed to leave the walls of their math. They must list the twelve "iconographies" which are the stereotypes by which the outsiders are likely to view them. Not only are the stereotypes recognizable to the reader (the mad scientist, the absent-minded professor, the brilliant savior, etc.) but the ritualized names they are given are also close enough to words ("messiah") and names of popular characters ("Spock") that it is clear the author is letting you in on an "inside joke": this is not so much a story of what it would be like on another planet in which the theoreticians are sequestered, but an inventive way of looking at the academics and other "nerds" in our own world.

Two of the most mathematical portions of the book have been relegated to appendices. For instance, a dinner conversation about cutting cake (which is really about cutting out a square with an irrational side length using a unit length knife) is placed not in the dinner where it occurs in the story but instead at the end of the book with a note indicating that the appendix exists. (I wonder what percentage of readers look at it...and whether the publishers insisted that the math be segregated from the story in this way!)

Contributed by Hauke Reddmann

The 3/3 is rather a trick answer to a trick question. "Anathem" hasn't that much *math* content (and most in the appendix), but the *meta*mathematical theme is prominent.

Literaric Quality? That's an even tougher one. I hate books that collapse to black holes under their own weight, and I more hate James Joyce and his whole ilk. (Hey, Stanislaw Lem fully agreed with me...or so I infer from his works :-) We must imagine the following scene:

Neal: "Hey $Editordude, I just finished my new book!"
$Editordude: "Swell. So what's it about?"
Neal: "In three words? Postapocalyptic math monks."
$Editordude: "Ehmmmm...thats sounds awfully close to a Tentacle for Leibowitz."
Neal: "Canticle!!"
$Editordude: "Whatever. How many pages?"
Neal: "200."
$Editordude: "Even worse. Hey, I have an idea. Do you have 'Bestsellers for Dummies?'"
Neal: "Does a robot follow Asimovs laws? Waitaminnit, I fetch it..."
$Editordude: "OK. Open it at a random page."
Neal: "How random?"
$Editordude: "Random random, dammit!"
Neal: "Check. It says: 'Method Joyce. Pepper with neologisms and gratituously expand to quadruple size. The more hermetic it gets, the better. The professional recensents will love it. The mob will (or will not) buy your name anyway, you can't influence that.' Yeah, sounds good. I call back in a month."

And thus "Anathem" was born. But the reader desperately wishes himself back into the time where SF was short and monsters were tentacled. Funny, I must have a tentacle obsession today :-) Anyway. I'm not even half through the book, and if had no literaric quality, I had had thrown it into the edge by now, and it contains a few lulz making my day (the explanation of a "thatcher" is a subtile riot), but I can't really recommend the book unless you are sentenced for 20 to life. Wish me luck, I have to read on now...

Thus endeth another bookcontent-devoid Meta-Review from Hauke Reddmann. :-)

Contributed by Jacqueline

This book totally drew me into the world created by Mr. Stephenson, I could not put it down. There are some proofs that are illustrated in fun ways, but more importantly there are many theoretical math and logic concepts that are central themes in this book. And its just fun!!!!! It does seem a shame that the book review on the main page for the book kind of wrecks a mojor reveal, but the book stands on its own, anyway.

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Works Similar to Anathem
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  2. Axiom of Dreams by Arula Ratnakar
  3. The Singularities by John Banville
  4. Risqueman by Mike Wood
  5. Proof by Induction by José Pablo Iriarte
  6. Light by M. John Harrison
  7. Eversion by Alastair Reynolds
  8. Singer Distance by Ethan Chatagnier
  9. Strange Attractors by Charles Soule (author) / Greg Scott (Illustrator)
  10. Beyond the Hallowed Sky: Book One of the Lightspeed Trilogy by Ken MacLeod
Ratings for Anathem:
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:
3.43/5 (7 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.38/5 (8 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAcademia, Religion,

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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)