a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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What it Means When A Man Falls From The Sky (2017)
Lesley Nneka Arimah
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for literati.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, now home to many Europeans who came as refugees from the floods but then took over, mathematicians have the job of eliminating people's pain.

In this fantastical world, mathematicians are experts at sensing emotion and treating its ailments, somewhat the opposite of a standard stereotype of mathematicians as ignorant of emotion. The main character, Nneoma, lives the elite lifestyle of the mathematicians (able to cut to the front of the bread line, for example) but suffers from her own problems involving her ex-girlfriend and her father.

However, things really start to fall apart when a man literally falls from the sky. It is cause for a loss of faith in the power of mathematics that is derived from the supposedly infinite Furcal formulas:

(quoted from What it Means When A Man Falls From The Sky)

When things began to fall apart, the world cracked open by earthquakes and long dormant volcanoes stretched, yawned and bellowed, the churches (mosques, temples) fell, not just the physical buildings shaken to dust by tremors, but the institutions as well. Into the vacuum stepped Francisco Furcal, a Chilean Mathematician who discovered a formula that explained the universe. It, like the universe, was infinite and the idea that the formula had no end and, perhaps, by extension, humanity had no end, was exactly what the world had needed.

Over decades, people began to experiment with this infinite formula, and in the process discovered equations that coincided with the anatomy of the human body, making work like hers possible. A computer at the Center ran the Formula 24/7, testing its infiniteness. There were thousands and thousands of lines. People used to be able to tour the South African branch and watch the endless symbols race across a screen ticker-style. Then the Center closed to the public, and the rumors started that Furcal's Formula was wrong, not infinite, that the logic of it faltered millions and millions of permutations down the line, past anything a human could calculate in her lifetime.

They were just that, rumors, but then a man fell from the sky.

This short story appears in the critically acclaimed collection by Lesley Nneka Arimah of the same name.

Contributed by Alejandro Bustos

A very creative and enjoyable story. In a mere 15 pages, this tale touches on such topics as the devastating consequences of climate change, neo-colonialism, racism, the meaning of pain, and class conflict, all while held together by a strong mathematical tone.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to What it Means When A Man Falls From The Sky
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Matrices by Steven Nightingale
  2. Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy
  3. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  4. Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska
  5. Distress by Greg Egan
  6. Apartheid, Superstrings and Mordecai Thubana by Michael Bishop
  7. Prime Suspects: The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations by Andrew Granville / Jennifer Granville / Robert J. Lewis (Illustrator)
  8. Cantor’s Dragon by Craig DeLancy
  9. The Babelogic of Mathematics by Vijay Fafat
  10. Black Numbers by Dean Frank Lappi
Ratings for What it Means When A Man Falls From The Sky:
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:
3.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
5/5 (2 votes)

MotifFemale Mathematicians,
MediumShort Stories,

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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)