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The Mathematical Kid (1940)
Ross Rocklynne

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

Ross Rocklynne had a specific style in many of his stories. Set up a very non-standard astrophysical situation, and then solve it unconventionally. In “The Mathematical Kid”, he describes a young chap, a stowaway on a ship, “Aphrodite”, who warns the ship’s captain and anyone else who would listen that the ship was going to suffer a catastrophic collision in “eight days, seven hours, and forty three minutes”. No one believes him and the ship crashes on a previously undiscovered asteroid. The planet is about 3,000 miles in diameter but has 1.5 times earth’s gravity. The ship’s damaged thrusters can only handle about half that gravitational pull. So now how?

The kid offers a solution:

(quoted from The Mathematical Kid)

“So the thing to do,” he went on , impressively, “is to decrease the amount of gravity pulling on the ship!” And he gave me a “see how simple it is!” look.

How the kid actually achieves this is a funny read, for the planet is not a sphere but a gigantic mountain....

It turns out that the kid is none other than a “mathematical genius”, “Georgie Periwinkle, the mathematical prodigy, with six comets, two new planets—three, now—a new subatomic particle, and a mess of miscellaneous inventions to his credit!”. At the “Philadelpia Science Institution”, he had read the Aphrodite’s published orbit figures and had calculated that it would collide with his newly discovered planetoid. To help the ship, he had become a secret stowaway (We must overlook the bit that this mathematical genius had time to telegram “his friend, the President of USA” to inform him that he was running away but not ask the POTUS to stop the launch.).

Now, having successfully reduced the gravity acting on the ship, George Periwinkle, mathematical genius, calculates the new trajectory the ship would have to follow to reach Pluto...

The Mathematical Kid was published in the June 1940 issue of Amazing Stories.

As Vijay says, Rocklynne has other stories similar to this one. For instance, Vijay also proposed that I had his 1938 story The Men and the Mirror in which two men are trapped in a smooth concave crater on an interplanetary body. It was my determination that the methods they used to escape (and the descriptions of those methods) were physics and not mathematics and therefore decided not to include The Men and the Mirror in this database. However, I admit that the distinction is not always clear. So, I am pleased that The Mathematical Kid is just a tiny bit more mathematical, allowing me to justify creating an entry for it and also to mention the earlier similar story.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to The Mathematical Kid
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Into the Comet by Arthur C. Clarke
  2. The Black Mirror by Eric Simon
  3. N Day by Philip Latham
  4. Misfit by Robert A. Heinlein
  5. Blowups Happen by Robert A. Heinlein
  6. The Gostak and the Doshes by Miles J. Breuer (M.D.)
  7. The Living Equation by Nathan Schachner
  8. The Imaginary by Isaac Asimov
  9. The Magic Staircase by Nelson Slade Bond
  10. Mad Destroyer by Fletcher Pratt
Ratings for The Mathematical Kid:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
TopicMathematical Physics,
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)