a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Palimpsest (2007)
Howard V. Hendrix
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A very short story with strong shades of Clarke's "Nine billion Names of God" and "Genesis", coupled with the general idea that our reality is a Turing machine in danger of being subverted by the Great Programmer.

Worldwide, people have started receiving "Godspam", religious messages "accompanied by strange symbols, unlikely return addresses, threats of global apocalypse, personal damnation, or slime-mold status in one's next life—taken together, such were almost always a tip-off to some sort of virtual proselytizing, blockable by the most rudimentary rule-based content filters."

When a universal spam-blocking software is created, there is a religious uproar and protests against the deployment of the software. However, it may be a little late for the blocker...for the "spam" bits have started re-writing the physical universe using an experimental interface capable of modifying its surroundings. A beautiful line expresses this:

(quoted from Palimpsest)

"sensors began exchanging properties with the physical environment—and godspam began weaving numbers into stone and tree and leaf, names into steel and flesh and bone."

A race against the universal erasure program begins. Some other fragments from the story:

(quoted from Palimpsest)

“I do believe, though, that our entire universe is a computational process, a universal quantum Turing machine running a foundational self-evolving algorithm. The quantum gravity theorists say the entire initial state of our universe could be burned into a single good data needle—that the foundational rule set in fact encompasses a fairly small amount of information.”


(quoted from Palimpsest)

“In Hebrew, every letter is also a number. In Kabbalah, the ten permutations of the four-letter Hebrew name of God form the ten mythic letter-numbers of creation. Those constitute the larger set of ineradicable Names, the attributes that allow us to contemplate the divine essence.” “They say that if what we're working on succeeds, we'll eradicate the ineradicable names.” “Let me guess. The world as we know it will cease to exist.”

The dedication on the story makes it clear that the similarity to The Nine Billion Names of God is not coincidental. And, like that story, I am not entirely sure it belongs on this website. Each is an interesting combination of religion, philosophy, computer science and science fiction...but they are only barely mathematical.

Published as Analog Science Fiction Science Fact, September 2007.

(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 Palimpsest
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke
  2. The Labyrinth Key by Howard V. Hendrix
  3. The God Patent by Ransom Stephens
  4. Mathematical Revelations by Helen De Cruz
  5. Perturbation - For Nature Computes On A Straight Line (In Seven Balancing Acts) by Vijay Fafat
  6. A Mathematician's Galatea by Andrew Magrath
  7. River of Gods by Ian McDonald
  8. La formule: (A story of fourth dimension) by Jean Ray
  9. Axiom of Dreams by Arula Ratnakar
  10. The Planck Dive by Greg Egan
Ratings for Palimpsest:
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:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
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)