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The Blind Geometer (1987)
Kim Stanley Robinson
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for hardcore fans of science fiction.

This short novel lives up to its name: it really is about a blind geometer! Carlos Oleg Nevsky was born blind and ``since 2043'' has been a professor of mathematics at GWU. We get some interesting discussion of the advantages/disadvantages a blind person might have in picturing the abstract spaces that concern modern geometers. We also get a little bit of real mathematics in the form of an introduction to projective geometry and one of its elementary results, Desargues's Theorem (including a reasonable proof in the affine case and a hand-waving approach when infinity is involved).

The villain in this story is Carlos' colleague Jeremy Blasingame:

(quoted from The Blind Geometer)

I never did like Jeremy Blasingame. He had been a colleague for a few years, and his office was six doors down from mine. It seemed to me that he was one of those people who are fundamentally uncomfortable around the blind; and it's always the blind person's job to put these people at their ease, which gets to be a pain in the ass. (In fact, I usually ignore the problem.) Jeremy always watched me closely (you can tell this by voice) and it was clear that he found it hard to believe that I was one of the co-editors of Topological Geometry, a journal he submitted to occasionally. But he was a good mathematician, and a fair topologist, and we had published some of his submissions, so that he and I remained superficially friendly.

Still, he was always probing, always picking my brains. At this time I was working hard on the geometry of n-dimensional manifolds and some of the latest results from CERN and SLAC and the big new accelerator on Oahu wer fitting into the work in an interesting way; it appeared that certain sub-atomic particles were moving as if in a multi-dimensional manifold, and I had Sullivan and Wu and some of the other physicists from these places asking questions about my work in multi-dimensional geometries. With them I was happy to talk, but with Jeremy I couldn't see the point. Certain speculations I once made in conversation with him later showed up in one of his paers; and it just seemed to me that he was looking for help without actually saying so.

The plot thickens when Jeremy puts Carlos in touch with the beautiful, sexy and mysterious ``subject'' Mary who cannot speak normally and draws pictures of projective space.

There are a few clever science fiction aspects here, it's kind of cute the way the sections are labelled like the diagram proving the theorem, and I enjoyed the presentation of the mathematics, but I found the resolution of the mystery disappointing. (I think I am more focused on the end of books and stories than some other people since I am often disappointed in this way. If the end of a story isn't the best part, it spoils the whole thing for me.)

This story is too long to be a real short story and too short to be a novel. It was published as ``Tor Double Novel 13'' along with Ursula K. Le Guin's ``The New Atlantis''. Unfortunately, these double novels are hard to find. (I don't think libraries like them much...where do you shelve them?) I was able to find my copy at one of the online used book services.

Thanks to Ken Miller for pointing out that this story is also available in The Mammoth Book of Modern Science Fiction : Short Novels of the 1980s and Nebula Awards 23, which are not readily available for purchase but are at least more likely to be in your local library.

Carlos Oleg Nevsky is, of course, a fictional blind mathematician. But, there are real historical examples, too. See this 2002 article from the AMS Notices for some non-fictional blind mathematicians, including the blind geometer Bernard Morin.

Contributed by Hauke Reddmann

Dear Prof. Kasman,

an even more near-lying source for that novel would be "The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson", Night Shade Books. (I just tripped over it at the local public lib.)

A short review: I rather like my SF hard, rock-hard, PSpace hard :-) This doesn't necessarily mean aliens and time machines and robots and all that, but rather that it's, just as math, Axiomatic. (Which reminds me BTW that Greg Egans selfsame-named short story collection needs to be included on your site for the title alone :-)

Robinson is rather from the literary than the idea dept. (see Wiki) - in *very* short stories he doesn't excel, as I see from the above-mentioned anthology. "The Blind Geometer", which is markedly longer in comparison to the rest, definitively is one of the best stories in that book. The protagonist is greatly characterized. The math is not *that* specific, though. Desargues, whatever. (I would have inserted an allusion to Bernard Morin instead.)

Yours sincerely

H. Reddmann

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Ratings for The Blind Geometer:
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:
3.33/5 (3 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.67/5 (3 votes)

GenreScience Fiction, Adventure/Espionage,
MotifCool/Heroic Mathematicians, Academia,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Real Mathematics,
MediumNovels, Short 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)