a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Calculated Magic (1995)
Robert Weinberg
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

In this sequel to A Logical Magician, the mathematically trained wizard's assistant returns to fight evil monsters in Vegas and save his fiance (Merlin's daughter) from Hell.

I do like the idea that supernatural creatures, being more controlled by certain objective characteristics, are susceptible to logical analysis in a way that "overly emotional" humans are not. However, I did not find the particular ideas employed by Weinberg to be very interesting or creative.

Examples of the mathematical content include his challenging the Sphinx to explain Zeno's Paradox and trapping a genie in a Klein Bottle. (He also mentions that he would have brought up Cantor's diagonalization argument to outwit the Sphinx had Zeno not done the trick.)

In fact, there is not very much math in the book, and the little that is there is often incorrect. For instance, Zeno's Paradox is not really a "riddle" that one can answer. As a brief remark by another makes clear, the expected "answer" is the notion of convergent series, but the endnote that elaborates mistakenly makes it sound as if all infinite sums are finite. Even worse, his discussion of Möbius Strips and Klein Bottles is all very confused. His attempt to describe the interesting feature of a Möbius strip fails. (It is not that an ant can walk on it forever without reaching an edge since that is true of a cylinder and a sphere as well, but that if you stick a toothpick through the surface at one point, painting half of the stick red and half green, that the ant can start near the red half and walk on the surface until getting to the green side of the stick without having to go across an edge.) Also, aside from the fact that the defining characteristic of a Klein bottle is that it does not divide space into an inside and an outside (so there is no way to "trap" anything in it), the author clearly expresses a misconception that the difference between a Möbius strip and a Klein bottle is that one is two-dimensional and the other three-dimensional (they are, in fact both surfaces). Considering that the author earned an MA in math and taught briefly at the Illinois Institute of Technology, I might have expected better.

Anyway, to put it in perspective, this is an entertaining, light read which is better enjoyed if you don't try to think too much while reading.

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Works Similar to Calculated Magic
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. A Logical Magician by Robert Weinberg
  2. The Gate of the Flying Knives by Poul Anderson
  3. Sine of the Magus [aka The Magicians] by James Gunn
  4. Matrices by Steven Nightingale
  5. The Better Mousetrap by Tom Holt
  6. The Mathematics of Magic by L. Sprague de Camp / Fletcher Pratt
  7. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
  8. After Math by Miriam Webster
  9. Stranger than Fiction by Marc Forster (Director) / Zach Helm (Screenplay)
  10. Math Takes a Holiday by Paul Di Filippo
Ratings for Calculated Magic:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Fantasy,
MotifCool/Heroic Mathematicians, Mobius Strip/Nonorientability,

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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)