a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

Forgotten Milestones in Computing No. 7: The Quenderghast Bullian Algebraic Calculator (1990)
Alex Stewart

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A very creative story about a mathematician which History has entirely forgotten - one "Thaddeus Q. Quenderghast III, of Nettlebend, Wyoming". Born around 1821, a contemporary of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (with whom he is implied to have had a relationship "that raises more questions than answers"). He was a child prodigy, showing "an early and precocious aptitude for the more abstruse areas of higher mathematics, solving the four color problem one afternoon during a finger-painting exercise" (nice touch!). By chance, he inherits about seventy square miles of farmland replete with cattle and one day, while musing over Boolean algebra, realizes that the gates on the cattle pens can represent binary switches and the presence or absence of an animal in the pen as a 0/1. From there, it is a very short conceptual leap into the creation of the world's first true computer...driven by a system of fences, gates, mirrors, sentry-posts and a special mathematical code devised by Thaddeus to speed up communication; at one point, the cattle-computer is able to calculate pi to 4 decimal places!

Beyond the great title and a very lovely idea, it should make interesting comparison to Sean McMullen's "Souls in the Great Machine" and AC Clarke's "Into The Comet", where human calculators work in parallel to form a large-scale computer.

Appeared in Digital Dreams, edited by David V. Barrett (NEL 1990).

More information about this work can be found at
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Forgotten Milestones in Computing No. 7: The Quenderghast Bullian Algebraic Calculator
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini
  2. Fermat's Legacy by Ian Randal Strock
  3. The Difference Engine by William Gibson / Bruce Sterling
  4. Agha and Math by Vladmir Karapetoff
  5. Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
  6. Shooting the Sun by Max Byrd
  7. Doing our Babbage by Ira Slobodien
  8. Doctor Who: The Turing Test by Paul Leonard
  9. Algorithms and Nasal Structures by Lois H. Gresh
  10. Into the Comet by Arthur C. Clarke
Ratings for Forgotten Milestones in Computing No. 7: The Quenderghast Bullian Algebraic Calculator:
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.


GenreHistorical Fiction, Humorous,
MotifProdigies, Real Mathematicians,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Fictional Mathematics,
MediumShort Stories,

Home All New Browse Search About

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)