a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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A Logical Magician (1994)
Robert Weinberg
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A very creative romp through the lore of creatures of mythology and their return in modern times. A computer programmer creates a program to decode ancient texts and find the incantations to invoke powerful demons. An untimely earthquake ends up releasing a fearsome demon who is bent on bringing back the rule of the dark side. To fight the good war, Merlin the Magician selects as the savior of humanity an out-of-work Math Ph.D. with a strong penchant for science fiction and fantasy. And for good reason, too! For the only weapons that can work against the creatures of chaos in modern times are tools of logic and mathematics…In one hilarious episode, the monsters of darkness are unable to enter the building housing the department of mathematics because “mathematics must bother them”.

Weinberg develops this concept over the course of the novel, first explaining how strong beliefs in magical figures are enough to crystallize those fictional characters from primal chaos into reality. From there, he ends up showing why mere data storage disks, pocket calculators and lasers (“coherent, ordered light!”) can destroy the mythical creatures — Mathematics and logic are the epitome of logical, ordered, rational and precise thinking, attributes which are antithetical to the chaotic origins and nature of the mythic monsters.

I really liked this theme beyond just its funny execution. Unlike regular math-fiction which may use some particular theorem or figures for plot angle or a description about mathematicians, this story employs the philosophy behind mathematics in a very logical (true to form) fashion, with a strong dose of fantasy. The result is extremely entertaining.

There is a sequel to this novel, called “A Calculated Magic”, which follows the story line to its conclusion.

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Works Similar to A Logical Magician
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Calculated Magic by Robert Weinberg
  2. Phantom by Terry Goodkind
  3. Sine of the Magus [aka The Magicians] by James Gunn
  4. Conjure Wife (Dark Ladies) by Fritz Leiber
  5. Threshold by Sara Douglass
  6. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
  7. Mathemagics by Margaret Ball
  8. The Last Page by Anthony Huso
  9. The Mathematics of Magic by L. Sprague de Camp / Fletcher Pratt
  10. Merlin Planet by E.G. Von Wald
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GenreFantasy, Horror,
MotifCool/Heroic Mathematicians,
TopicLogic/Set 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)