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The Ultimate Analysis (1944)
John Russell Fearn
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

This one is a hurriedly thrown together mish-mash of mathematical statements which make no sense when examined individually but taken together, form a breathless pulp story about a mathematician who acts upon "[James] Jeans' theory" that the universe ultimately has mathematics at its core. He creates a machine which can analyze any piece of matter and find its constituent mathematical components [the machine uses "a crystalline" sensitive to "mathematical vibrations" and determines the "metallic variants" of matter].

The machine ends up becoming sentient after it processes a piece of iron, since it "analyzed it to the edge of nothing. It analyzed the iron down and down into its final atomic, sub-atomic, sub-sub-atomic constituents, down to its eternally locked core. And because iron is the basic factor of the universe as we know it, the material universe anyway, the machine had there a mass of equations forming the basis of universe-stuff" (the author's belief that iron is the most basic and stable constituent of the universe is possibly based on his misreading of the evolution of stars, in which normal fusion stops at iron-56 stage). The machine's sentience escapes as a "half ethereal, half material" bolt of "mad mathematical probablities", "a shuffling in which geometry and mathematics were interlocked" [stop laughing!]. The beam finally comes to rest in a far-away, starless region as "a world of equations", pulsating and contemplating its next move (I half expected the author to posit a new big bang out of it). As such, it is comparable to Nathan Schachner's "The Living Equation".

There is some extraneous stuff thrown in about a corporate evil-doer who wants to become a senator, a Vegas thief/murderer and an invasion fleet from Alpha Centauri (why not?) but it is really very hard to take this story seriously on any front except the author's remarkable ability to throw together beautiful nonsense with a straight face. Some examples:

(quoted from The Ultimate Analysis)

"Our universe is finite because geometrics limit it. It is infinite when understood through mathematics. Separate the geometry from the mathematics and then..then we shall understand the universe for what it really is!"

"The iron has been converted into mathematics by the very mathematics which make it up. [...] A mathematical catalyst! What a discovery!"

"It is law that a straight line, even driven through a mass, can only hit about six individual units straight on. The rest are hit diagonally, Hence the difficulty that is experienced in hitting atoms..."

Originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories (Fall 1944) and reprinted in The Best of John Russell Fearn, Volume Two.

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Works Similar to The Ultimate Analysis
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Mathematica by John Russell Fearn
  2. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
  3. Luminous by Greg Egan
  4. Distress by Greg Egan
  5. The Mathenauts by Norman Kagan
  6. Mathematica Plus by John Russell Fearn
  7. The Devouring Tide by John Russell Fearn (under the pseudonym Polton Cross)
  8. The Second Moon by Russell R. Winterbotham
  9. Into the Fourth by Adam Hull Shirk
  10. Problem in Geometry by T.P. Caravan
Ratings for The Ultimate Analysis:
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 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
1/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAliens, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful,
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)