a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Axiom of Choice (2009)
David Corbett

An extremely well-crafted short story in which math professor coldly recounts for a detective how the bloody bodies of his wife and his student came to be in his house. It is not really a murder mystery, but rather more of a very somber character study.

According to the professor, the student became obsessed with the Axiom of Choice, an axiom of set theory that allows a mathematician to refer to a set made out of a collection of elements selected from infinitely many other sets. Though this may not sound particularly controversial, it is within mathematics because if assumed it allows one to prove some surprising results and some question whether it is reasonable to assume it. However, so far as I can see, it does not have the philosophical implications regarding free will that the student in the story sees in it. These views lead him into depression and eventually into an affair with the math professor's wife, a musician.

The way the professor recounts the story, everything from his criticism of the students at his small college to his casual acknowledgement of his own extramarital affairs, leads one initially to think that he is unemotional and evil. He even says:

(quoted from The Axiom of Choice)

Now, I can imagine what you're thinking. Anyone who walks away from the scene you discovered in my house, then talks about his sex life, his lack of inhibition, his pleasures -- not to mention set theory and Descartes, for God's sake -- you have to wonder: Is he demented?...I assure you, I am not deranged, nor do I lack a conscience.

In the end, I think his story justifies his claims...but he still seems quite cold and I'm sure that it is not a coincidence that this character trait is linked with a mathematician in the story.

Originally published in The Strand Magazine, XXVII 2009. Thanks to Sandro Caparrini for bringing it to my attention.

(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Axiom of Choice
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Axiom of Choice by David W. Goldman
  2. Buried Alive at the End of the World by Blair Bourrassa
  3. Roten av minus én [The Square Root of Minus One] by Atle Næss
  4. Homage by Ross Kagan Marks (director) / Mark Medoff (screenplay)
  5. Randall and the River of Time by Cecil Scott Forester
  6. Orpheus Lost: A Novel by Janette Turner Hospital
  7. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God by Rebecca Goldstein
  8. The Solitude of Prime Numbers [La Solitudine dei Numeri Primi] by Paolo Giordano
  9. Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda
  10. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin
Ratings for The Axiom of Choice:
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 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)

MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Music, Romance,
TopicLogic/Set Theory,
MediumShort 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)