a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Ah of Life (2010)
Banks Helfrich (Writer and Director)

At the beginning of this film we see various stages in the life of Nigel. We see him as a high school student about to fail math due to lack of interest in the subject. We see him as an old man who enjoys his garden of bamboo. And, we see him as a middle-aged math professor working on a new theory of time. Then, things really begin to happen when the young Nigel shows up in the middle-aged Nigel's office for tutoring. Math professor Nigel tries to help his younger self develop the interest in math that he knows he does, and together they begin to better understand the mysteries of time, life and love.

The mathematical dialogue is stilted and basically nonsensical. The notion of "vertical time" is something that literary experts and sociologists seem to like to discuss, and was apparently inspired by the idea that time always appears on the horizontal axis and that it is fundamentally different to view it on the vertical axis instead. Perhaps I'm being obtuse, but I do not see this as anything more than a rather vague and obvious analogy. Since Newton, it has been clear that time is just one of many parameters in the equations, and Einstein's work explicitly ties time and space together into an inseparable whole. (Einstein is mentioned frequently in this movie. The academics refer to him as "E" and "Albert".) Here, however, it is formalized into a mathematical construction in which "space is constant" but "time and perception are variables". (Click here to see a photo showing Nigel's mathematical scribblings, which make more sense to me than the rambling dialogue that accompanied it.)

Having said that I do not particularly like the idea of "vertical time", I still must admit that this film is a very nice work of art based on it!. If it just showed the life of a character out of chronological order and made some philosophical observations about the inevitability of death it would have been one of many such works of fiction, and in tough competition with Slaughterhouse Five (one of my favorites, which also features a notion of "vertical time" in the form of the Tralfamadorean worldview). But, the interactions between the different Nigels and especially the decision to have him researching a mathematical theory of time are creative, clever, well-done and enjoyable.

If you get a chance to see "The Ah of Life", do! It is going to be shown at The 20th Annual Woods Hole Film Festival, July 30-August 6 2011, and will probably be available for purchase after it finishes the film festival circuit. Follow the link below (or click on the title above) for more information from the director's official website.

Contributed by Alex

August 2012 Update: Banks wrote to say that "The Ah of Life" is going to be at the White Sands International Film Festival.

Contributed by Banks Helfrich

Hear ye, hear ye!

"the ah of life" feature film is on Amazon for rent or buy!

If you have any questions, please hesitate minimally.

Free thoughts,
Banks Helfrich
human/filmmaker/loofah grower

Contributed by cathie

A very well made movie with a very good cast of characters. The film quality was great and the asian professor and his assistant are very good together. You do have to stay with the movie or else you could get lost. If you are an individual who enjoys thinking, you will enjoy the movie. I highly recommend this work. I would like to purchase a hard copy for the local library collection.

More information about this work can be found at
(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 Ah of Life
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Drode's Equations by Richard Grant
  2. The Writing on the Wall by Steve Stanton
  3. Boltzmann's Ghost by Ken Wharton
  4. The Fatal Equation by Arthur Strangeland
  5. The Central Tendency by Daniel Kaysen
  6. Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
  7. Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker
  8. Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds
  9. River of Gods by Ian McDonald
  10. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
Ratings for The Ah of Life:
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:
4/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (2 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifTime Travel, Math as Cold/Dry/Useless, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful, Romance, Math Education,
TopicMathematical Physics, Fictional Mathematics,

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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)