## Ask Slashdot: Mathematical Fiction? 278

Posted
by
Soulskill

from the it-was-an-arbitrarily-lit-and-stormy-night dept.

from the it-was-an-arbitrarily-lit-and-stormy-night dept.

An anonymous reader writes

*"Neal Stephenson's 1999**Cryptonomicon*was a great yarn. It was also a thoroughly enjoyable (and too short) romp through some mathematics. Where can I find more of that? I should say that I don't want SF — at least none of the classic SF I read voraciously in the 70s; it's just not the same thing, and far too often just a puppet-theatre for an author's philosophical rant. Has any author managed to hit the same vein as Stephenson did? (Good non-fiction math-reads are also gratefully accepted. What have you got?)"
## George Orwell (Score:4, Funny)

After all, 2+2=5

## Tons of math fiction (Score:5, Informative)

http://kasmana.people.cofc.edu/MATHFICT/

## Re: (Score:2)

## Romney's Budget (Score:4, Funny)

It's great mathematical fiction.

## Re: (Score:2, Funny)

No, it's fantasy.

## Re:Romney's Budget (Score:4, Funny)

Obama's budget is a fairy tale with magical creatures called "taxes on the rich" which make everything better.

## Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

you partisan bitches

Wow! Projection.

## Greg Egan (Score:5, Informative)

## Re: (Score:3)

Yeah, I was thinking Greg Egan as well; Schild's Ladder in particular, along with Permutation City pop to mind.

And much of the work under the moniker of "Hard SF" might appeal to the submitter, since it tends to be backed by real math, physics, and chemistry and often delves into the details.

## Re:Greg Egan (Score:5, Informative)

Egan's latest, "Clockwork Rocket", is probably his most mathy work to date. It takes place in a different universe (dubbed "Orthogonal") with its own distinct physics: the speed of light is different for different colors; gravity is an inverse-linear force as opposed to inverse-square; and don't even ask what's going on at the subatomic level (are there even atoms in this universe? It's not quite clear this early in the trilogy...)

Anyway, the book's got diagrams and everything, so if math and physics are your thing, you'll have lots of fun with this one.

## Re: (Score:2)

Thanks for the reminder of his work: I read that story years ago, and loved it. I'll have to go seek out the rest of his work now.

## Re:Greg Egan (Score:4, Informative)

I second Greg Egan. For a taste, here's a free short story. [asimovs.com]

## Re: (Score:3)

Google gives this:

'At the moment, there are 1089 works of mathematical fiction listed in this database.'

http://kasmana.people.cofc.edu/MATHFICT/all.php [cofc.edu]

## flatland (Score:5, Informative)

flatland, a romance of many dimensions;

(http://www.geom.uiuc.edu/~banchoff/Flatland/)

## Re: (Score:2)

Delightful night-time reading - nothing violent or scary. About the greatest hazard are the triangular buildings with sharp corners.

## Re:flatland (Score:4, Interesting)

The sequel "Flatterland" (by Ian Stewart, who also wrote "The Annotated Flatland", which is exactly what it says on the tin, and contributed to the excellent "Science of Discworld" trilogy) and parallel novel "The Planiverse" (by A. K. Dewdney) are also quite good.

Flatterland covers a lot of advanced math and physics, via the adventures of A. Square's great-granddaughter Victoria Line, while The Planiverse examines what physics, chemistry, biology, and societies would be like in a two-dimensional universe.

## Re: (Score:2)

Another note for The Planiverse, which I read long before Flatland and much preferred -- the older novel was a disappointment by comparison when I finally managed to track it down.

## Re:flatland (Score:4, Informative)

flatland, a romance of many dimensions;

(http://www.geom.uiuc.edu/~banchoff/Flatland/)

Yes, recommended. I enjoyed it, although one has to look past the misogyny in its pages. (It was written in 1884.)

I also recommend the 1965 novel Sphereland [wikipedia.org] for those who would enjoy a sequel with a more non-Euclidian treatment.

## Re: (Score:2)

That title always reminds me of the short-but-great "The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics" by Norton Juster. (Kids books are worth a mention 'cause hey, why not! They're fun!) Also, "The Phantom Tollbooth", again by the wonderful and talented Mr. Juster. If you like math, you may also like puns and sly humor about math and other subjects. I read "Tollbooth" as a kid (maybe 6th grade or so) and liked it just fine, then I stumbled upon it again in college and re-read it and was *amazed* at all

## Hofstadter (Score:5, Insightful)

I found Douglas Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach" to be at least as engaging as any Stephenson-esque fiction I've ever read.

## Re:Hofstadter (Score:5, Interesting)

Hostadter also wrote "Metamagical Themas" - both the book and the articles in Scientific American for some time. Those two books were some of the best reads I've ever enjoyed.

## Re: (Score:3)

I was thinking the same. Keep in mind, it's not fiction (there are fictional elements in it, more like fables to illustrate the points made), and it's more like a general essay/introduction to logic, paradox, intelligence and what it means, recursion, and similar topics. You may find yourself covering topics you are already familiar with, depending on your experience, but it's still a good read.

You can read a better summation on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

## Flatland: A Romance Of Many Dimensions (Score:2, Informative)

Well over a hundred years old and well ahead of it's time.

## The Story of O (Score:5, Funny)

The Story of O by Pauline Reage is the fascinating account of the discovery of the number in ancient Mesopotamia.

## Not fiction but... (Score:4, Informative)

...Tracy Kidder's Pulitzer winner -reads- like good fiction.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soul_of_a_New_Machine [wikipedia.org]

In terms of "dramatizing math", I'd have to give it the nod even over Cryptonomicon.

## "A Subway Named Mobius" (Score:5, Insightful)

"A Subway Named Mobius" [youngmathwizards.com], from 1950.

## on the non-fiction side (Score:5, Informative)

Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofsteder

The Mind's I, co-edited by Douglas Hofsteder and Daniel Dennett

One, Two, Three... Infinity by George Gamow

Flatland, by Edwin Abbott Abbott (okay, this one is fiction)

anything by Martin Gardner

## Re: (Score:2)

Anything by Marcus du Sautoy (Music of the Primes, Finding Moonshine)

Dr.Riemann's Zeros by Karl Sabbagh

Unknown Quantity by John Derbyshire

Alex's Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos

## Goldbach's conjecture (Score:2)

Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture: A Novel of Mathematical Obsession http://www.amazon.com/Uncle-Petros-Goldbachs-Conjecture-Mathematical/dp/1582341281 [amazon.com]

## Re: (Score:2)

## Ready Player One (Score:2)

I know you asked for

math-reads, but you also asked for books likeStephenson. I just finished reading Ready Player One [amazon.com] which I found to be a lot like Gibson and Stephenson, but better. (For example, RPO actually has anending.) It has a good cyberpunk feel, and a realistic world. The way he described the dystopian near-future society reminded me of Stephenson'sDiamond AgeorSnow Crash, or Gibson'sVirtual Lighttrilogy.## Re: (Score:2)

I just finished reading Ready Player One [amazon.com] which I found to be a lot like Gibson and Stephenson, but better. (For example, RPO actually has an

ending.)Regarding Stephenson's inability to write an ending, amen! He's one of my favorite writers, but he can't tie up a book to save his life. Diamond Age was the worst -- great book, but virtually nothing is resolved at the end. I'd never heard of Ready Player One, but it sounds great and I've already got it on order. Thanks!

## Re: (Score:3)

I think Stephenson takes an eternal and unjust beating about his endings. His books end when the major conflicts are in a position to be resolved by a thinking reader. There's no "and they lived happily ever after," but there is always a sense that all of the key pieces are in the right place and the outcome is decided in that the people we want to come out on top will come out on top. Chess is a very apt metaphor, in my mind: when he stops writing, you know that the Bad Guys are outmaneuvered and trappe

## Oh, you want mathematical _fiction_ (Score:5, Funny)

I thought you wanted fictional mathematics and was going to point you to arXiv.

## Re: (Score:2)

## Neverness by David Zindell (Score:2)

## Re: (Score:2)

This. The whole series is very well done and deeply engaging. But it is dense. It might be best described as fictional mathematical physics, but it is not your typical SF...even hard SF.

## The Spade of Reason by Jim Cowan (Score:2)

Originally published in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction” in 1997

http://www.spadeofreason.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Spade-of-Reason.pdf [spadeofreason.com]

## Anathem (Score:2)

Also read "Anathem" by Stephenson. Mathematics plays a prominent role, although it's not as explicitly explored as it is in "Cryptonomicon". There are also passing references to things from general relativity (or, at least, a common formalism for tensor analysis) that you will not realize are there unless you've done some advanced undergraduate (or even graduate) Physics courses....

## Re: (Score:2)

## Housekeeper and professor (Score:2)

I liked Anathem a lot. The housekeeper and the professor is also really good. Then we have the last theorem by Clarke and pohl which is strange but engaging. Some say the dispossessed counts, but I don't know. The difference Engine by Gibson and sterling is a must read. If you get a chance to see Proof it is well worth it.

Came here to also recommend The Housekeeper and the Professor [wikipedia.org]. It reminded me why I used to like maths.

## Try Borges's short stories (Score:3)

While not often directly mathematical, several of Jorge Luis Borges's short stories are interesting efforts on his part to grapple philosophically with many of the concepts of infinity:

The Library of Babelmost famously, but also great stories likeThe Book of Sand,The Aleph, and evenDeath and the Compass. They won't necessarily tickle you in the same way that Stephenson's work did, but they're still a fine jumping-off point into fascinating and deeply philosophical mathematics.## anti-recommendation (Score:2)

don't bother with anything by rudy rucker. except

the hacker and the ants, or maybewhite lightif you're desperate.anyway, someone mentioned greg egan; i'll second that in general. i don't know exactly what you mean by "mathematical" that would exclude 70s hard sf; greg egan might be too close to that or not. i don't know.

and although it barely qualifies, stanislaw lem's

the investigation[wikipedia.org] was very interesting to me; the description at wikipedia is accurate and as spoiler-free as it could be. actually, an## Re: (Score:2)

Oh, I don't know... I loved Rucker's "Software" trilogy, but it's not about math at all.

If you like pondering infinities,

White Lightis a lot of fun (but be sure to readThe Divine Comedyfirst).I haven't read Bruce Sterling's

Involution Ocean,but a friend of mine highly recommended it to me.## Non-Fiction (Score:2)

Another great non-fiction is

Inviting Disasterby James Chiles. It's an engineering book, not a math book, but I think it's still cool in the same vein. Every chapter recreates the events of a famous or influential disaster (nitroglycerin plants explode, buildings collapse, reactors melt down, etc.) and examines the engineering and human decisions that caused or exacerbated the problem. It's been a while since I read it, but IIRC i## Re: (Score:2)

## The greatest one of all (Score:3, Interesting)

I can't believe nobody here has posted this yet...

One of the most underrated books ever written is Alice in Wonderland. No, it's not "just" an absurdist children's tale. The author, "Lewis Carroll," was really the mathematician and logician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson -- and some mathematicians claim that almost everything that happens in the book is an allegory of a mathematical theorem or algorithm of some kind. I'm not qualified to say, but it is a marvelous work, and some people have written mathematical footnotes for it.

## Re:The greatest one of all (Score:4, Informative)

The Battleship PotemkinorTriumph of the Will. It was an allegory ranting against the discipline of complex math, which had just recently been introduced. He was ridiculing the concept of imaginary numbers, which take you to a Wonderland where things grow and shrink in size randomly and other things disappear almost entirely (except their grin!).## Re:The greatest one of all (Score:5, Interesting)

It's very, very much there, to the point where it surprises me when people don't spot it, but perhaps it helps to know the context:

Dodgson also wrote a book called

Euclid and His Modern Rivals, which was basically a lengthy criticism of people who were trying to develop alternative axioms of geometry and new theorems from them in Dodgson's day. It's fictionalized, in that he used Minos and Radamanthus, two of the three judges of Hades, he had the ghosts of famous dead mathematicians appear, and he actually used Lewis Carroll as a character, who chimed in with his opinions as though he weren't merely Dodgson's alter-ego.By most accounts, it's a fair lynching. Except for Legendre and Peirce, the people Dodgson was criticising have been pretty well dismissed and are not considered at all relevant to modern non-Euclidian math. Dodgson wasn't particularly critical of those two. For example, he basically said Henrici was using a cheat called a Magician's Force" to present his arguments, which is pretty much saying Henrici wasn't just wrong but crooked. He granted that one of Henrici's arguments was probably intended to be a Reducto ad Absurdum, but then called it an abnormal and hideous one. In a genteel era, there are places where he's about as blunt with some remarks as could be, without shocking genteel folk, and probably if he had been speaking about businessmen or military figures, instead of mathematicians, would have provoked a real challenge to a duel or two, even though they were firmly illegal by then (about 1865 when the first snippets of it were published seperately, to 1885 for the whole volume). About the worst he said of Legendre was that he was better suited to readers who had already studied the subject in depth, and beginners would be confused by their own prejudices as to what words mean in common language instead of math.

I hope you can see where this is going, a bit. In the Alice books, we have a character saying when he uses a word it means precisely what he wants, people having to run as hard as they can just to stay in place, arguments about logical order (The Red Queen's "First the sentence, then the verdict"), and all sorts of bits which are not only about math, but are said by characters who are parodies of some of the specific mathematicians in 'Euclid and'. There's reasons why some characters in the two Alice books look like walruses and carpenters if you look at photos and illustrations of the people in 'Euclid and' who say the quaintly illogical things that match.

The second printing of this book came out in 1974, from Dover, and people might still be able to dig it up cheap. It's 'slightly dry reading' by modern standards.

## Easy (Score:4, Funny)

## More computer than math but ... (Score:2)

## Wow!! no one has said these. (Score:2)

The Ghost from the Grand Banks by Arthur C Clark - extensive subplot around chaos and fractal theory.

You can also make an argument about the Foundation series from Asimov being math based. The entire series is predicated on using math to predict the future and Humanities actions.

## Re: (Score:3)

Difference Engine sucked at every possible level.

## 9 examples (Score:2)

## Diaspora, by Greg Egan (Score:2)

The science fiction novel called

Diasporaby Greg Egan had some interesting mathy sections. It wasn't rigorous, as I recall, but it certainly went into more "depth" than your average sci-fi story.## Trying to remember (Score:3)

I read a story the premise of which involved a computer that was designed to create/discover new mathematical theorems. At some point there was found to be an issue in some areas of research, and it was ultimately concluded that another similar effort was being made elsewhere in the universe, and the two efforts were at odds. Essentially the math became 'true' instantly/everywhere when it was first proven, but with different starting points/assumptions the two mathematical realms were in conflict. Don't remember the name/author, and I would love to know (assuming anyone recognizes it from my poor description) to reread and recommend.

## Re: (Score:3, Informative)

That would be "Luminous", by... hey, Greg Egan again. Good story, if kind of short.

If you want to stick in that general direction of things, BTW, the short story collection

Dark Integers and Other Storieshas that plus four other more or less loosely-related (I believe only one actually qualifies as a sequel to Luminous) stories. Probably your best bet for sticking to math-related fiction.## Re: (Score:2)

Thank you!

## Back in print... (Score:2)

Fantasia Mathmatica [amazon.com] It was out of print forever but should be on the shelf of everyone who loves math or teaches math.

## Re: (Score:2)

Fantasia Mathematicaincludes the story "A Subway Named Mobius" which someone above recommended.## I think (Score:5, Interesting)

You may like 50 shades of Grey, it has the number 50 on it.

## The World of Mathematics (Score:2)

"A Small Library of the Literature of Mathematics from A'h-mose' the Scribe to Albert Einstein, Presented with Commentaries and Notes by James R. Newman."

Four volumes. Reprinted in paperback by Dover. But the hardcover originals are worth tracking down. Put them on a shelf with "Mathematics and the Imagination." There is nothing to be found which will give you more pleasure.

## Robert Anton Wilson (Score:2)

## Funny you should ask... (Score:5, Informative)

Here's an excellent source of mathematical fiction... Alex Kasman's curated list of mathematical fiction [cofc.edu]! I highly recommend it.

Also, a story I discovered through this list, which was truly spectacular: Ted Chiang's "Division by Zero". Freely available here [fantasticmetropolis.com].

## couple recommendations (Score:2)

Cuckoo's Egg is good computer fiction you might enjoy.

For non-preachy hard sci-fi Charles Stress has some post singularity books that are pretty great.

## Rudy Rucker (Score:2)

He has a modern version of Flatland, and his other novels vary from sci-fi w/ math, to too much math not enough sci-fi :-P

## Non-fiction (Score:2)

The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved [amazon.com]

## The Sand-Reckoner (Score:2)

I enjoyed "The Sand Reckoner", Gillian Bradshaw's fictional account of Archimedes. (I also enjoyed the original "Sand Reckoner" by Archimedes, but that was not fiction.)

Gillian Bradshaw is a well regarded historical novelist, and there is mathematical content in the novel if you know what to look for. In the book Archimedes' father dies, and Archimedes distracts by working on his mathematics. The reader does not know what he is working on until he tells his sister "It's more than ten seventy-firsts and less

## Suggestions (Score:2)

The story "Division by Zero" [fantasticmetropolis.com] by Ted Chiang. Can be found in the collection Stories of Your Life and Others [google.ca] (they're all great stories, actually).

The story "Luminous" by Greg Egan, from the collection of the same title. What happens when mathematicians discover that: (a) there is a flaw in the structure of mathematical truth; and (b) that mathematical truth can be altered by performing calculations around the flaw.

Someone has already collected a bunch of mathematical fiction here [cofc.edu].

## Found a list (Score:2)

http://kasmana.people.cofc.edu/MATHFICT/mfview.php?callnumber=mf52 [cofc.edu]

I found the above list because I was searching for information on a story I read and enjoyed, "The Mathenauts". The basic idea is that it is possible to travel into a universe or dimension of pure math, and discover new mathematics by exploration. Some of the explorers don't come back; the chief danger is to lose yourself in the math and never return to our reality. You become imaginary, or something like that.

## Anathem (Score:2)

## Poly (Score:2)

## I loved this book (Score:2)

Michael Crichton did this to a limited extent but not to this lovely level.

The description of how he deceives the screen scanning system while imprisoned would throw most people for a loop. I love it!

Encore, encore.

## Zero, The Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Score:2)

Zero, The Biography of a Dangerous Ideachronicles the origin of the number zero. It's one of the most interesting math and history books I've ever read.## Mathenauts (Score:2)

Short story collection.

## Anything by Rudy Rucker (Score:2)

...I'm particularly thinking of

White Lighthere, in which our hero travels,literally, to infinity and beyond. And it is just as screwed up and hallucinogenic as you might imagine.## Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture (Score:2)

It's been a while since I read it, but I remember Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture [wikipedia.org] being an enjoyable read.

## Signal to Noise (Score:2)

Signal to Noisehttp://www.amazon.com/Signal-Noise-Eric-S-Nylund/dp/0380792923 [amazon.com] explores a lot of the same kinds of mathematical concepts as Cryptonomicon, but in a Space Opera Thriller. The sequel is quite good as well.Unfortunately, it's impossible to say *anything* about this story without spoiling it, so I'll just leave it as a bare recommendation.

## Non-Fiction (Score:2)

Rudy Rucker had a great little booklet out called "Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension" that I would recommend, as well as his "Infinity and the Mind".

His fiction is all over the place...but if you want specifically math oriented, then try "The Sex Sphere". It is, literally, Flatland taken to the nth dimension! Lots of weird kinky pan-dimensional sex too. :-) Captain Jack would love this book! :-)

## Rudy Rucker (Score:2)

Mathematicians in Love

Also:

Postsingular, Hylozoic

White Light

## Three highly-recommended mathematical novels (Score:2)

Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture [amazon.com] tells a fictional story about real mathematics and real mathematicians.

Logicomix [amazon.com] is an excellent graphic novel about mathematical logic.

A Certain Ambiguity [amazon.com] uses real mathematics in a fictional quest for absolute truth.

## Comics to help grasp mathematical concepts&phy (Score:2)

http://www.amazon.com/Ian-Stewart/e/B000APQ9NM/ [amazon.com].

On a slightly different note, French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Petit vulgarised a n

## Re: (Score:2)

since you seem to be French, i have to ask: did you intend the very negative connotations of the word "vulgarise"? don't take this the wrong way, it's just kind of funny and i'm genuinely confused because you seem to be mostly positive about the works you mention.

## The Puzzling Aventures of Dr. Ecco (Score:2)

## Michael Flynn : In the Country of the Blind (Score:2)

## Non-Fiction (Score:3)

If we drop the fiction requirement but still avoid math proper, there are classics like...

"A Mathematicians Apology" by G.H. Hardy is The description of what it is to be a modern mathematician. Essential reading for the professional.

"Chaos: Making a New Science" by James Gleick popularized the field of chaos, now folded into analysis.

"The Fractal Geometry of Nature" by B. Mandelbrot is worth it for the images, and popularized fractal geometry.

"Godel, Escher, Bach" by D. Hofstadter has been mentioned above, but is an extraordinary exploration of logic and well-deserves its awards.

I consider "Where Mathematics Comes From" by G. Lakoff and R. Nunez to rank amoung these. It applies linguistic cognitive neuroscience methods to explore the neurological basis of mathematics.

For math proper, a couple favorites:

"The Heritage of Thales" by Anglin and Lambek is part history and part math textbook, presenting classic results from different periods of history in their context.

"A Wavelet Tour of signal processing" by Stephane Mallat is the best book on wavelets I've seen, clearly written and full of powerful ideas which may take centuries to unfold.

## One Jump Ahead (Score:3)

This is a near-miss in the math nonfiction category, "One Jump Ahead" by Jonathan Schaeffer is the story of the guy who solved the game of checkers. I haven't read the book, but there's a podcast on the "relatively prime" series, called "Chinook", here [relprime.com].

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with either the Relatively Prime podcast series, or the Chinook project.

## Re: (Score:3)

## Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

But every one of those pages is interesting and exciting, unlike his other books, which tend to lose pace and focus after a brilliant start.

## Re: (Score:2)

## Re:Too short? (Score:5, Interesting)

Anathem is one of the best books I've read in years, and if the opening chapters don't grip you you're missing something badly. Having said that, most of Anathem's jokes are based on a strong knowledge of etymology and of the history of western (especially Greek) philosophy, so if you're not strong on those subjects a lot of it will go WHOOOOOSH over your head. But, that's just the same as most of Cryptonomicon's jokes requiring a knowledge of mathematics. Stephenson expects his readers to be well and widely read and to have an intelligent understanding of what they've read; he's not 'easy reading'.

## Re: (Score:2)

I've heard that a lot about Anathem, but for some reason I count it as one of the best books I've ever read. At a point later in the book there was a large chunk of almost straight dialog (about 50 pages) concerning various philosophical and metaphysical concepts. I was glued the entire time. However, in Quicksilver, a similar approach concerning economics left me bored to tears. I guess it's all about the subject.

I loved Cryptonomicom and also Quicksilver. Quicksilver gave me an insight in how world economics developed. I never took any courses on economics and I found Quicksilver fascinating.

## Re: (Score:2)

If it had 3000, it might be almost long enough.

## but they don't really give any numbers (Score:2)

so it's quantum mathmetical fiction.

## No, it's Superstring Theory fiction . . . (Score:3)

. . . economic recovery will occur, but only in other dimensions that most folks won't be able to sense and experience.

And since Superstring is the Unified Theory, it applies to both political parties.

## Re:Oo oo! I've got one! (Score:4, Funny)

I took a number out of the Romney/Ryan economic recovery plan, and multiplied it by itself to see what would happen. I got a negative number. Why would that be?

I took another number and multiplied it by itself, and got another negative number. In fact,

everynumber I took from that plan and multiplied by itself, I got a negative number!How could that be?

## Re:Oo oo! I've got one! (Score:4, Insightful)

I just took the actual Obama recovery results and got negative numbers without having to multiply by anything...

## Re: (Score:2, Troll)

## Re: (Score:2)

## Re: (Score:2)

How about:

"Damages Incurred By Piracy" by MPAA / RIAA?

"What To Wear At Your Office Party And How It Will Affect House Prices" by The Daily Mail