a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Lost in the Funhouse (1968)
John Barth

According to the "foreward to the Anchor Books Edition", this collection of short stories is "strung together on a few echoed and developed themes and [circles] back upon itself; not to close a simple circuit like that of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, emblematic of Viconian etermal return, but to make a circuit with a twist to it, like a Möbius strip, emblematic of -- well, read the book."

I did read the book, and recognized that the theme of creation (sexual and literary) seemed to tie the stories together. However, were it not for this passage in the foreward and for the first "story", I would not have thought to include it in this list of mathematical fiction.

The first "story", called Frame-tale, is actually a Mobius strip! It is a single page with the words "ONCE UPON A TIME THERE" written at one edge and "WAS A STORY THAT BEGAN" on the opposite side, with instructions for joining the ends to make a Möbius strip.

A visitor to this site, Birgit Gerdes, has written me to let me know that she believes there is a great deal of hidden mathematics in this collection of stories. In general, I shy away from such statements since I believe that you can "find" hidden math in any work of fiction (or non-fiction). However, since the author clearly had at least some mathematics in mind when writing this work, perhaps there is justification in finding mathematics in expressions such as "In sum..." which can ordinarily be used in English without any real mathematical implications.

(Also, take a look at the review of this book by mathematician Nik Weaver at his "Math in Fiction" website.)

Contributed by Evan

Lots to think about and good fun too.

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 Lost in the Funhouse
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Geometry of Love by John Cheever
  2. The Ore Miner's Wife by Karl Iagnemma
  3. Kavita Through Glass by Emily Ishem Raboteau
  4. The Tolman Trick by Manil Suri
  5. Falling Umbrella by Julia Whitty
  6. Towel Season by Ron Carlson
  7. Zilkowski's Theorem by Karl Iagnemma
  8. Belonging to Karovsky by Kathryn Schwille
  9. The Arnold Proof by Jessica Francis Kane
  10. Het gemillimeterde hoofd (The Cropped Head) by Gerrit Krol
Ratings for Lost in the Funhouse:
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:
2.25/5 (4 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.5/5 (6 votes)

MotifMobius Strip/Nonorientability,
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)