a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley (2016)
Danyl McLauchlan

A semi-serious Lovecraftian novel set in New Zealand's Te Aro suburb featuring some mystical mathematicians (and questions of Platonism) in a central role.

This sequel to the Danyl McLauchlan's "Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley" continues to be a sort of satire of the progressive culture of this Wellington suburb and features the same protagonist, also named Danyl. Although his main goal is to find his missing ex-girlfriend, he soon also is searching for a missing math student about whom he is told:

(quoted from Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley)

"He didn't go mad. He asked himself the question that mathematicians aren't supposed to ask. He thought about the thing they're not supposed to think about."

And that thing we aren't supposed to think about is whether math might not just be something hypothetical we create in our brains but something with its own independent reality:

(quoted from Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley)

"Some mathematicians wonder whether mathematical objects are real, like the books, or symbols like the words in side the books. At first, they seem like symbols. The number two is just a description of two objects, right? It's not real. You can't reach out and touch the number two. But!" She held up a cautioning finger. Danyl tipped his head sideways and squinted. "If we look closer, it seems as if numbers really are real. Consider the pile of books again. There are four books in it. If you wanted to you could pick them up again and reorder them. How many different ways could you arrange them?"....

Starting with this combinatorial question and through a (slightly misphrased) leap into infinite series, the town administrator who has rescued Danyl from homelessness derives the irrational number e and its usefulness in describing reality. In other words, the mystery that we are not to ponder is the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.

In many ways, the fantastical parts of this novel can be categorized as science fiction, but it also has a mystical/supernatural component to it:

(quoted from Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley)

"You're partly right," the mathematician gasped. "The City might be spiritual. But logic and reason aren't the opposite of spirituality. They're components of it. They alone cannot explain the City, but it cannot be explained without them...."

So, it is one of many works of fiction in which math and magic are seen as being interrelated.

As the plot develops, we meet more mathematical characters and a Da Vinci Code-esque conspiracy theory is built up around the origins of non-Euclidean geometry. How, we are asked to ponder, could so many different mathematicians (Schweikart, Gauss, Bolyai and Lobachevsky, for example) all suddenly be making progress on this same subject at the same time? As the meme tells us, it must be aliens! But, in MMOTAV they are aliens from a separate mathematical universe who are threatening our own and must be stopped. That, in itself, is a common theme (if not a "meme") in mathematical fiction. See, for example, Luminous and Doctor Who: The Algebra of Ice

(By the way, no conspiracy theory is needed to explain the fact that many isolated mathematicians will achieve similar results at about the same time. That is how research works, not only in math but in science as well. Previous discoveries and new theories lay the groundwork for progress in certain directions. Also, at each point in history certain open problems within math or its applications will are recognized as the hot/important problems, which will push people to work on the same topics. So, it is to be expected that different research groups who are familiar with those new results will simultaneously make similar or closely related discoveries.)

I often say in these reviews whether I recommend the work or not, but in this case I will instead propose a test. How you respond to the following quote I think will show whether you would enjoy reading this book as a work of mathematical fiction:

(quoted from Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley)

"According to the Ogilvy-Day equations, the Gaussian curvature of the Real City is almost at its maximal value. If Gorgon and the Cartographers imprison a few more pilgrims in the City, the way will open. The sentient mathematical universe will have direct access to our reality. And then..."

If you read that and think "wow, that sounds cool; I want to know more" then you should read this book.

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 Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
  2. Unreasonable Effectiveness by Alex Kasman
  3. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  4. Dark Integers by Greg Egan
  5. Luminous by Greg Egan
  6. Monday Begins on Saturday by Arkady Strugatsky / Boris Strugatsky
  7. The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
  8. Bonnie's Story: A Blonde's Guide to Mathematics by Janis Hill
  9. Lost in the Math Museum by Colin Adams
  10. Doctor Who: The Algebra of Ice by Lloyd Rose (pseudonym of Sarah Tonyn)
Ratings for Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley:
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 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, 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)