a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Distress (1995)
Greg Egan
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for hardcore fans of science fiction.

My friends and I are all in agreement on this one: this book starts out great (at a mathematical physics conference where people are talking about the latest theories of quantum gravity) but then it degenerates into a ridiculous ending. The story takes place just a little bit in the future. People are still talking about string theories and the loop quantization of gravity (in fact, some real papers by mathematical physicists are mentioned, which is kind of cool.) The big difference is that things really seem to be coming to a conclusion: the much discussed "Theory of Everything" is about to become a reality, which is exciting to the mathematical physicists (and hopefully to the readers too) but is a threat to a group of crazy people who believe the universe will be altered when the truth is discovered. Spoiler: I do not recommend you read this book to find out the ending because so many people before you have been disappointed by it, but if you don't want to know, please stop reading now as I am about to reveal the ending. In the end, it turns out that those crazy people were right. Once the theory of everything is discovered, suddenly everybody alive knows everything, they see equations in their heads all of the time and can predict in advance every nuance of the motion of a falling leaf. This is a hard adjustment for the people who lived before this "enlightenment", but the new generation grows up in this new world without emotions or doubt.

BTW: Check out Egan's Home Page for more information about his fiction, his programming and the mathematics underlying them.

Contributed by Braulio Tavares

Greg Egan is a hard sf writer whose first novels (Quarantine and Distress) end in an almost metaphysical transcendence. In spite of all the sf trappings and all the hi-tech gizmos he so cleverly imagines, Egan seems to have (at least in the beginning of his career as a novelist) an undercurrent of mysticism which always pushes him toward endings that posit The Mind as the ultimate reality.

Contributed by Alton Naur

Egan is like A.E. van Vogt -- he introduces astonishing idea after astonishing idea, and then when you think it can't go any further he introduces two more!

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Works Similar to Distress
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds
  2. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  3. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  4. Perturbation - For Nature Computes On A Straight Line (In Seven Balancing Acts) by Vijay Fafat
  5. The Living Equation by Nathan Schachner
  6. Diaspora by Greg Egan
  7. Saint Joan of New York: A Novel About God and String Theory by Mark Alpert
  8. Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan
  9. Dark Integers by Greg Egan
  10. The Fatal Equation by Arthur Strangeland
Ratings for Distress:
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:
3.5/5 (4 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.75/5 (4 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifProving Theorems, Female Mathematicians,
TopicMathematical Physics, Real Mathematics, Fictional Mathematics,

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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)