a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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One Word Kill (2019)
Mark Lawrence
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Nick Hayes, a math prodigy with leukemia in the 1980's, meets his future self in this first book of the "Impossible Times" trilogy from Amazon's publishing arm. The consistent time loop that this creates is the main point of interest in this book, but Dungeons and Dragons is also a main theme, and towards the beginning of the book there is also a bit about math.

Nick's father was a mathematician and he also had cancer. In this book, we are led to believe that this was the reason he committed suicide. (The second book in the series suggests an alternative explanation which is tied to his math research.) And, Nick himself is quite good at the theoretical side of math, though his friend Simon is better at computation and has a better memory.

It is only a tiny spoiler for me to tell you that the strange man Nick meets named "Demus" is a future version of himself who has travelled back in time from 2011. It isn't far into the book that this is announced, and most readers would probably figure it out well before then anyway.

Demus recommends that Nick visit a math professor, impress him with his own discoveries, and then make use of that connection to obtain access to information about quantum mechanics at the university library. So, Nick visits Professor James:

(quoted from One Word Kill)

Professor James had seemed rather surprised to see me at his door. He asked if I were lost. I answered by asking him if he had considered the Ryberg Hypothesis in non-Euclidian manifolds above five dimensions, because it suddenly became provable, and that fact had powerful implications for high order knot theory. After that, he was all mine.

Nick presents his own results which are apparently supposed to be very impressive. Professor James decides that they were actually unpublished results of his father's that Nick found, and Nick allowed him to believe that.

There are some interesting ideas in this book about time travel, and the intricate consistency of the particular time loop it describes was a source of entertainment for me as I read the book. But, I was confused (and still am a bit) about the reason the author included the part about Professor James. It certainly serves the purpose of convincing us that Nick is a brilliant mathematician. This is helpful since the reader must accept that he will eventually discover time travel as well as a method for storing, uploading, and erasing human memory. But, aside from that literary purpose, it doesn't make much sense. I mean, the excerpt above doesn't make much sense to me mathematically, and the idea that Nick would give away this brilliant idea just so he could get access to books on quantum mechanics doesn't make sense either. (Later in the book, Nick and his friends break into a heavily guarded facility to steal microchips. Did he really have no other options for obtaining books from a university library than to reveal his amazing discoveries without getting credit for them?)

Although the story seems to wrap up nicely at the end, it turns out that this book merely serves to set up the more involved story arc that is revealed in a trilogy (See Limited Wish and Dispel Illusion). Math plays a bigger role in the second book, and one could argue that the little bit that appears at the beginning of "One Word Kill" is justified by that. However, for a book that appears to have been planned so carefully, it still seems to me that the mathematical component was not thought out as carefully as the rest.

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Works Similar to One Word Kill
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds
  2. Nanunculus by Ian Watson
  3. Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence
  4. Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence
  5. The Outside by Ada Hoffman
  6. The Zero Theorem by Pat Rushin (screenplay) / Terry Gilliam (director)
  7. The Arrows of Time [Orthogonal Book Three] by Greg Egan
  8. The God Patent by Ransom Stephens
  9. Six Thought Experiments Concerning the Nature of Computation by Rudy Rucker
  10. River of Gods by Ian McDonald
Ratings for One Word Kill:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifProdigies, Academia, Time Travel,

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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)