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Old Faithful (1934)
Raymond Z. Gallun

An extended discussion of the use of arithmetic in setting up a two-way communication code comprises the mathematical content of this forgotten classic SF short story.

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

Gallun (rhymes with balloon) was a major contributor to science fiction in the 1930s and 1940s, and a remarkable innovator. Among other things, he wrote stories involving neutron stars and Dyson spheres and nuclear war as early as 1936. "Old Faithful" has a mercury mirror telescope. Perhaps more interesting than his sometimes prescient technology was his sympathetic treatment of robots and aliens. Although Gallun continued to publish science fiction until the mid-80s, he never pushed for nor received any general recognition, and is mostly forgotten.

"Old Faithful" begins on Mars, where civilization has been slowly dying for millennia. Martian 774, scientist and engineer has been informed that, per the usual Martian custom, he has forty days left to live (for the sake of the younger generation) and that his work, on two-way communication with the third planet's denizens using giant flashing lights, is not relevant to saving the Martian race. As a true Martian, he agrees with his fate, but he is not happy with the end of his research and laboratory. Fortunately, a rare comet is making a near pass of Mars then Earth, and 774 hitches a ride.

There were two sequels, "The Son of Old Faithful" and "Child of the Stars". involving 774's son 775.

Originally published in Astounding Science Fiction (Dec 1934) it was reprinted in Asimov's "Before the Golden Age" anthology and in "The Best of Raymond Z. Gallun".

Contributed by Anonymous

A rare positive treatment of a very alien intelligence compared with our own--especially in the mid-1930s.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Old Faithful
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Love and a Triangle by Stanley Waterloo
  2. From the Earth to the Moon [De la Terre à la Lune, trajet direct en 97 heures 20 minutes] by Jules Verne
  3. The Second Moon by Russell R. Winterbotham
  4. Diamond Dogs by Alastair Reynolds
  5. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  6. The Cube Root of Conquest by Rog Phillips
  7. The Imaginary by Isaac Asimov
  8. The Devious Weapon by M. C. Pease
  9. Mathematica Plus by John Russell Fearn
  10. Mathematica by John Russell Fearn
Ratings for Old Faithful:
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:
1.5/5 (4 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.75/5 (4 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumNovels, Short 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)