a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Reading by Numbers (2009)
Aidan Doyle
Highly Rated!

Elementary number theory and some superstitious numerology underlie this story, which appeared in the November 11, 2009 issue of the online Fantasy Magazine (though I would never describe this story as "fantasy" myself). The story takes the form of an e-mail message from a man named Michael Walker to the child he never met. Read naively, it is a letter explaining how he met the child's mother and why they broke up. However, there is a hidden coded message within it that is more sinister and explains why the e-mail is being used as evidence in a trial.

Walker and his Japanese lover first meet at a rather bizarre, virtual number theory course:

(quoted from Reading by Numbers)

8 — Twenty-three other students attended that lecture. Their avatars took the forms of anime characters, kawaii cats and other fantastic creatures. Sujimoto's avatar was reminiscent of a monk — wearing brown robes and conical hat.

9 — A text bubble appeared in the air beside the monk. “Welcome to this year's first class on number theory.”

10 — “Numbers have a purity that words cannot match.”

11 — “They are the building blocks of science. By studying them we can learn about ourselves and our place in the universe. I have created this garden to give you a chance to explore the world of numbers and their hidden beauty.”

12 — He pointed to the garden beds where different colored numbers grew. “There are transcendental numbers, abundant numbers, undulating numbers, pandigital numbers, deficient numbers, surreal numbers, happy numbers, weird numbers and my personal favorites, the

13 — vampire

14 — numbers.” A bed of numbers erupted from the ground in front of Sujimoto. It contained the numbers from 1 to 1000 arranged in orderly rows. The numbers were purple and had pale, green stems. “I want you to pick one integer. This is going to be your special number for the year. Then explore the garden.”

So, a love of math (or at least of numbers) is one thing they have in common.

However, the main character's (apparent) lack of familiarity with Japanese customs and superstitions (such as what it would mean to give a sick, elderly woman four chrysanthemums) lead to the couple's divorce before the birth. So, presumably, the writer of the e-mail never gets to meet the child to whom he is writing.

The story mentions some of the usual popular number theory jargon, like amicable numbers and people able to recite many digits of π, as well as some I have not heard about before (like the vampire numbers mentioned in the quote above). There is also a relatively nice bit about generating random numbers.

According to an interview with the author, this story was partially inspired by one of my favorite works of mathematical fiction:

"Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life is one of my all-time favorite stories. It examines how learning an alien language could affect your perception of time. I wanted to write a story dealing with how interacting with another culture could affect your perception of numbers."

Contributed by Leiggh

The secret message freaked me out after I eventually 'got it'!

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 Reading by Numbers
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Devotion of Suspect X [YĆ“gisha X no kenshin] by Keigo Higashino
  2. Aurora in Four Voices by Catherine Asaro
  3. The Housekeeper and the Professor (Hakase No Aishita Sushiki) by Yoko Ogawa
  4. Maths on a Plane by P T
  5. Twenty-seven Uses for Imaginary Numbers by Buzz Mauro
  6. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
  7. Moriarty by Modem by Jack Nimersheim
  8. Eye of the Beholder by Alex Kasman
  9. The Square Cube Law by Fletcher Pratt
  10. Problems for Self-Study by Charles Yu
Ratings for Reading by Numbers:
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:
3.67/5 (3 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (3 votes)

GenreMystery, Science Fiction,
MotifEvil mathematicians, Romance,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Algebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumShort Stories, Available Free Online,

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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)