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Glory (2007)
Greg Egan
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

The story talks about a xenomathematician's quest to understand hieroglyphic tablets on an alien planet containing the mathematical knowledge of an extinct civilization. The extinct aliens had apparently proved a theorem uniting their seven distinct strands of mathematics (represented on "seven dimensional commmuting hypercube"), on their way to something called "The Big Crunch" in mathematics (similar to the Langlands program).

(quoted from Glory )

“I'm a xenomathematician,” Joan said. “I've come here in the hope of collaborating with your archaeologists in their study of Niah artifacts.”

Pirit was stunned. “What do you know about the Niah?”

“Not as much as I'd like to.” Joan gestured at her Noudah body. “As I'm sure you've already surmised, we've listened to your broadcasts for some time, so we know pretty much what an ordinary Noudah knows. That includes the basic facts about the Niah. Historically they've been referred to as your ancestors, though the latest studies suggest that you and they really just have an earlier common ancestor. They died out about a million years ago, but there's evidence that they might have had a sophisticated culture for as long as three million years. There's no indication that they ever developed space flight. Basically, once they achieved material comfort, they seem to have devoted themselves to various artforms, including mathematics.”

“So you've traveled twenty light years just to look at Niah tablets?” Pirit was incredulous.

“Any culture that spent three million years doing mathematics must have something to teach us.”

“Really?” Pirit's face became blue with disgust. “In the ten thousand years since we discovered the wheel, we've already reached halfway to the Cataract. They wasted their time on useless abstractions.”

Joan said, “I come from a culture of spacefarers myself, so I respect your achievements. But I don't think anyonefind out, with the help of your people.”

(quoted from Glory )

It was as beautiful and satisfying as Joan could have wished, merging six earlier, simpler theorems while extending the techniques used in their proofs. She could even see hints at how the same methods might be stretched further to yield still stronger results. “The Big Crunch” had always been a slightly mocking, irreverent term, but now she was struck anew by how little justice it did to the real trend that had fascinated the Niah. It was not a matter of everything in mathematics collapsing in on itself, with one branch turning out to have been merely a recapitulation of another under a different guise. Rather, the principle was that every sufficiently beautiful mathematical system was rich enough to mirror in part — and sometimes in a complex and distorted fashion — every other sufficiently beautiful system. Nothing became sterile and redundant, nothing proved to have been a waste of time, but everything was shown to be magnificently intertwined.

First published in The New Space Opera, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Gardner Dozois (2007) and soon to be republished in Egan's collection Dark Integers and Other Stories. At the moment, a PDF file of this story is available for free at

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Glory
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Incandescence by Greg Egan
  2. Report from the Ambassador to Cida-2 by Clifton Cunningham
  3. Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan
  4. Dark Integers by Greg Egan
  5. The Eternal Flame [Orthogonal Book Two] by Greg Egan
  6. The Clockwork Rocket [Orthogonal Book One] by Greg Egan
  7. Distress by Greg Egan
  8. Luminous by Greg Egan
  9. The Arrows of Time [Orthogonal Book Three] by Greg Egan
  10. Dichronauts by Greg Egan
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GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAliens, Proving Theorems,
TopicFictional Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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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)