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Fermat's Lost Theorem (1994)
Jerry Oltion

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

This is a neat little story which plays on the fancy that one has found a very simple proof for Fermat's last theorem...if only one can write it down before the epiphany passes. A young mathematician (who has been asked to stay away from cryptography research after getting into trouble with the NSA) starts toying with the idea of obtaining a simple solution to FLT. The idea gets implanted in his brain by a trio of time-travelling students whose time machine creates "wakes of deja-vu". What happens after that is mildly funny, including some rhapsodization about how FLT might be solved graphically and a quick love interest. One of my favorite lines in the story: "Every mathematician lived in dread of the NSA."

Note that Fermat's Last Theorem (the statement that there are no positive, whole number solutions to the equation xn+yn=zn when n>2) is famous for being a mathematical statement that is very simple to make but notoriously difficult to prove or disprove. In fact, it was an open problem for hundreds of years until Andrew Wiles finally completed a proof in 1994. It is a common popular belief that there must be some elementary proofs of the theorem out there (either waiting to be discovered or known in secret as the story suggests). However, Wiles' proof is quite complicated (depending on advanced mathematical knowledge of elliptic curves and modular functions which are not available to a casual puzzle solver) and it seems likely that the statement cannot be proved in a much more elementary way at all.

Originally published in Analog Mid-December 1994 and reprinted in the author's anthology "Twenty Questions".

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Works Similar to Fermat's Lost Theorem
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Last Theorem by Arthur C. Clarke / Frederik Pohl
  2. Fermat's Best Theorem by Janet Kagan
  3. Fermat's Legacy by Ian Randal Strock
  4. The Gold at Starbow's End (aka Starburst / aka Alpha Aleph) by Frederik Pohl
  5. Gödel geht [Gödel's Exit] by Andreas Findig
  6. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  7. Storm: The Chronicles of Pandarve by Martin Lodewijk (writer) / Don Lawrence (artist)
  8. Pure Math by John Timson
  9. The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke / Stephen Baxter
  10. Signal to Noise by Eric S. Nylund
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GenreScience Fiction,
MotifProving Theorems, Time Travel,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,

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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)