a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Cipher (2015)
John C. Ford

As he turns 18, the son of the billionaire who owns the patent on public-key encryption finds himself in several complicated situations. There is a love triangle involving both his long-time girlfriend and a sexy but nerdy cryptography babe. After his adoptive mother dies in a suspicious a way, he finally gets to meet his birth mother. He learns that a Russian spy committed suicide on his parent's lawn when he was a baby and finds himself begging his dying father for early access to his inheritance. Worst of all, the NSA kidnaps his young autistic friend after the two of them attempt to blackmail the government with the prodigy's fast-factoring algorithm.

Quite a few of the characters are mathematicians (or at least mathematical). The Russian spy was a mathematician working for his father's company. His mother, now a math professor at Berkeley, is the keynote speaker at a conference on cryptography when he first meets her. The sexy babe he meets at the conference (one of the vertices of the love triangle) has both interest and training in mathematics. And, the young teenager with Aspergers' Syndrome who lives across the hall from the protagonist is attempting to prove the Riemann Hypothesis and instead accidentally discovers an algorithm allowing him to quickly factor the product of any two prime numbers. An older math professor is consulted at one point, and though his behavior at first gives one the idea that he may be absent-minded and unhelpful, he turns out to still be quite sharp and knowledgeable. As you can see, some of these characters conform to and others break the stereotypes of mathematicians commonly seen in fiction.

But, (spoiler alert).....everything is not quite as it seems!

And, there is even actual discussion of the math at several points in the book. Some of it is reasonable and well presented (such as the idea of an algorithm for factoring products of pairs of prime numbers and why it would be disruptive to internet security.) Other parts are not. (The portrayal of the Riemann Hypothesis is as vague and misleading as most of the others that appear in fiction. Most authors either don't really get it or decide that they'd rather avoid it. And, the "elliptical curves" that are mentioned a few times are probably supposed to be elliptic curves which, ironically, are not elliptical.) In any case, the details of the math are not particularly important to the plot (or, probably, to most readers) and even the least mathematically inclined of readers will be left with the impression that math is important.

The invention and patenting of public-key encryption are important to the plot, and are attributed to fictional characters and companies. Anyone who bothers to read the acknowledgements will see the author's attempt to correct any misconception this may create in the reader through a brief but accurate history of its development in the real world.

I'm sure there are readers out there who would really enjoy this exciting tale featuring a bit of mathematics. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. If you are someone who has read this book and loved it, please write to me and/or post your ratings with the links below so that I can share your comments with other site visitors.

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 Cipher
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  2. Bone Chase by Weston Ochse
  3. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
  4. The Crimson Cipher by Susan Page Davis
  5. No Regrets by Shannon Butcher
  6. Tetraktys by Ari Juels
  7. Equations of Life by Simon Morden
  8. The Deluge by Stephen Markley
  9. The Lure by Bill Napier
  10. The Expert by Lee Gruenfeld
Ratings for The Cipher:
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)

MotifFemale Mathematicians, Autism,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Real 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)