a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Mathenauts (1964)
Norman Kagan
(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.

A hilarious story that plays with the mind-blowing idea that it may not be that mathematics describes reality, but instead that reality is mathematics.

In the future presented by this story, only those with a knowledge of advanced mathematics can travel through space as a Mathenaut; by "abstracting" (thinking of the space around you as nothing other than a mathematical object such as a Riemann surface, a vector space or a topological space) these heroic travellers can travel using a method known as "BC-flight" (named after Thomas Brill and Ephraim Cohen). I must admit that I fell in love with this story not for these ideas, but for some of the quotes:

(quoted from The Mathenauts)

"Did Galois discover that theorem before or after he died?"

"I was looking over Ephraim Cohen's latest paper, Nymphomaniac Nested Complexes with Rossian Irrelevancies (old Ice Cream Cohen loves sexy titles), when the trouble started. We'd abstracted...were ready for the first tests. I made the Dold invariant and shoved off through one of the passages that linked the isomorphomechanism and the lab."

"Anyway, a mathenaut should never forget his postulates, or he'll find himself floating in 27-space, with nary a notion to be named."

"`By Riemann's tensors!' Pearl cried."

Contributed by Joe Mundschau, Madison WI

"Speaking as someone who barely remembers any of his high school algebra, I can say that twenty years after I read it I still remember this story and remember enjoying it immensely. I never knew how accurate or valid the representation of mathematics was in this story but it without talking down to me made me feel it was giving me insight into the world and minds of mathematicians. I think this would be a good story to show a young student interested in math."

Originally published in World of If /Science Fiction (July 1964), this wonderful piece of mathematical fiction was reprinted (and inspired the title of) the collection Mathenauts: Tales of Mathematical Wonder.

Contributed by RogC

The kind of Delight that is expected in Good Sci-Fi, here with a lot of Fun in Trying to envisage the situations & applying the Sheer Gibberish as any Kind of Physics/Maths. I liked best of all the Vanishings and yet Returns (or Safe OTHER Conditions the team experienced. (Much more creditable than, say, Simak's 'Time is The Simplest Thing') wherein C.D.S. forgot that - even when 'They' could send a Mind endessly distances- it was STILL IMpossible to send ANY Machine to record the Visit). Found in 'Best of Sci-Fi, 10'.

Contributed by Steve Biren

Great Work! But then again I am biased, as I am one of the characters in the story - Byron of Byron and Burbitt (my friend Warren Berbit), from B.C.N.Y. (actually C.C.N.Y.) and still have the original 1964 copy of "Worlds of IF" which cost 40 cents at the time.

As an interesting aside, the character names in the story were taken from Norman's friends at Bayside High School, most via the SP at JHS 158, and most today have gone on to get doctorates in various fields. Does anyone have a contact email for Norman, as I would like to get in touch. Steve Biren BEE (CCNY), MSEE (NYU), JD (NYU)

Contributed by David Glaubman

I was around 14 when I read this (55 years ago) in an anthology (think it was edited by Judith Merril)

Wanted to be a mathematician ever since tho nowadays I just push the bits thru the pipe.

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Works Similar to The Mathenauts
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Girl with the Celestial Limb by Pauline Melville
  2. Normed Trek by Harun Šiljak
  3. Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan
  4. Dark Integers by Greg Egan
  5. Luminous by Greg Egan
  6. Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Mine the Primes by Julian Todd
  8. Neverness by David Zindell
  9. The Living Equation by Nathan Schachner
  10. Planck Time by Michael Iwoleit
Ratings for The Mathenauts:
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:
4.26/5 (8 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.63/5 (8 votes)

GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry, Mathematical Physics, Logic/Set Theory,
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)