a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Methuselah's Children (1958)
Robert A. Heinlein
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

The supporting character of "Slipstick" Libby in this classic science fiction novel is a mathematician, or at least mathematically inclined. This has little to do with the novel's main plot, which concerns a secret society of humans who have lengthened their lifespans well beyond 100 years through selective breeding and flee the planet after their existence is revealed.

Here are a few mathematical highlights from this book:

  • Most significantly, Libby attributes his discovery of a space drive that seems to require no power to a mathematical observation:

    (quoted from Methuselah's Children)

    The so-called law of conservation of energy was merely a working hypothesis, unproved and unprovable, used to describe gross phenomena. Its terms apply only to the older, dynamic concept of the world. In a plenum conceived as a static grid of relationships, a violation of that law is nothing more startling than a discontinuous function, to be noted and described. That's what I did. I saw a discontinuity in the mathematical model of the aspect of mass-energy called inertia. I applied it. The mathematical model turned out to be similar to the real world. That was the only hazard, really -- one never knows that mathematical model is similar to the real world until you try it.

  • When asked by Lazarus Long how he is passing his time while stranded on a distant planet, Libby answers "Same as always. Think about mathematics... Or I just watch the clouds integrate. There are amusing mathematical relationships everywhere if you are on the lookout for them. In the ripples on the water, or in the shapes of breasts -- elegant fifth-order functions." Long says "Huh? You mean `fourth order.'" But, Libby corrects him: "Fifth order, you omitted the time variable. I like fifth-order equations...You find 'em in fish, too." (As far as I can tell, this is just nonsense. The order of an equation is not determined by the number of variables in it!)
  • As Libby sets to finding "a mathematics which would elegantly" reconcile the Michelson-Morley experiment with his newfound ability to travel faster than light, he thinks to himself "Mmmm...what was the least number of para-dimensions indispensably necessary to contain the augmented plenum using a sheaf of postulates affirming ---".
  • To determine how long they have been gone from the solar system when they return, Libby uses the positions of the planets as a "timepiece", claiming that because their periods are incommensurate these completely identify the moment in time (like a "clock with nine hands").
The character of "Slipstick" Libby also appears in Heinlein's Misfit.

Thanks to Chris Winter for suggesting that I include this book in my database!

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 Methuselah's Children
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Misfit by Robert A. Heinlein
  2. Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein
  3. The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar
  4. The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein
  5. And He Built a Crooked House by Robert A. Heinlein
  6. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  7. The Year of the Jackpot by Robert A. Heinlein
  8. Blowups Happen by Robert A. Heinlein
  9. The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein
  10. The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Ratings for Methuselah's Children:
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 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.5/5 (2 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
TopicMathematical Physics,

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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)