a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions (1991)
Kim Stanley Robinson
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

This work of speculative fiction is not a traditional work of fiction with a plot and characters, but reads more like an essay about the chaotic nature of reality which includes some alternative histories in which the dropping of the atomic bombs by the US on Japan at the end of World War II turned out differently.

The story uses terminology and ideas both from quantum physics and from the mathematics of chaos theory to motivate and justify the alternate histories as well as to emphasize the idea that there is no particular reason it turned out the way we read it in the history books rather than in some other way. For example:

(quoted from A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions)

So the covering law model is amended yet again. Explanations still require laws, but there are not laws for every event. The task of historical explanation becomes the act of making distinctions, between those parts of an event that can be explained by laws, and those that cannot. The component events that combine to create an explanandum are analyzed each in turn, and the historian then concentrates on the explicable components.

Paul Tibbets flies toward Hiroshima. The nomad steps out of his yurt.

Lyapunov exponents are numbers that measure the conflicting effects of stretching, contracting, and folding in the phase space of an attractor. They set the topological parameters of unpredictability. An exponent greater than zero means stretching, so that each alternative history moves farther and farther apart as time passes. An exponent smaller than zero means contraction, so that alternatives tend to come back together. When the exponent equals zero, a periodic orbit results.

What is history's Lyapunov exponent? This is the law that no one can know.

Frank January flies toward Hiroshima. The nomad stops in his yurt.

This was originally published in Author's Choice Monthly #20, Pulphouse Publishing, May, 1991. As I type this, it can be read for free at I thank Allan Goldberg for bringing it to my attention.

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 A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Bones of Time by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  2. Oracle by Greg Egan
  3. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
  4. In The Country of the Blind by Michael Flynn
  5. They'll Say It Was the Communists by Sarah Lazarz
  6. The Difference Engine by William Gibson / Bruce Sterling
  7. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  8. The Shiloh Project by David R. Beaucage
  9. The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming
  10. Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum
Ratings for A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Science Fiction,
TopicMathematical Physics, Chaos/Fractals,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

Home All New Browse Search About

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)