a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Mathematica Plus (1936)
John Russell Fearn
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

In this sequel to Mathematica, the humans, now knowing that everything is mathematics and having been made immortal by the ultimate mathematician, encounter a race of beings somewhere between material and abstract and learn that time does not exist.

Unfortunately, the author's knowledge of science and math (and his writing ability) do not quite live up to the grandiose themes that these stories attempt to address. All of the mathematics discussed is essentially arithmetic and using the word "electron" seems to be all he can do to sound scientific. For instance, the machine which travels between universes is said to do so by "subtraction", and beings are immortal if they are built up of "uncancellable figures". Lester del Rey seemed to agree with this assessment back in 1936 when he wrote:

"[Mathematica Plus] was pseudo-mathematics, fiction, and hokum. Its appeal lay in a trick of using grand-sounding phrases and vague hints which orators have used to thrill the masses since Greece, but this time they were given a semi-mathematical form. Analyze most of it, and it means nothing...he does a good job of it too, and I enjoy his tricks thoroughly."

I must beg to differ with that last remark, however. I remained unimpressed and unentertained throughout. Perhaps they have simply not aged well. In the decades since this was written, others have written about similar ideas much more successfully, IMHO.

Both of the Mathematica stories appeared in Astounding Stories in 1936. They were reprinted in 2001 in The Best of John Russell Fearn Volume One edited by Philip Harbottle, which includes a nice cover painting by Ron Turner inspired by Mathematica.

Contributed by Steve

I found both stories to be pretty ridiculous even accounting for when they were written. I have read nearly all of Astounding and Wonder before 1950 and have enjoyed almost all of it, but Fearn's stories just infuriate me. Many of the readers writing to Brass Tacks (but not all) thought his work to be “drivel”. I agree. But I recognize others might disagree.

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Works Similar to Mathematica Plus
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Mathematica by John Russell Fearn
  2. Luminous by Greg Egan
  3. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
  4. Distress by Greg Egan
  5. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  6. Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan
  7. The Ultimate Analysis by John Russell Fearn
  8. The Devouring Tide by John Russell Fearn (under the pseudonym Polton Cross)
  9. Old Faithful by Raymond Z. Gallun
  10. The Second Moon by Russell R. Winterbotham
Ratings for Mathematica Plus:
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 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
1/5 (2 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAliens, Time Travel, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,

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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)