Science Fiction for Math Students

Science Fiction for Mathematics Students

Created by Thomas Seay

The following works of science fiction are suitable for inclusion in a class on mathematics.

  • Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin Abbott Abbott. In this 1884 classic, a two-dimensional creature dramatizes multi-dimensionality by explaining his own world and then visiting worlds of various dimensions: Pointland, Lineland, and our familiar three-dimensional world. The complete text is available online:

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/97
 

  • "--And He Built a Crooked House," by Robert A. Heinlein. A 1941 short story about an architect who builds a three-dimensional model of a four-dimensional house, only to have the house collapse into actual four-dimensional form as the result of an earthquake. Several people are trapped within the house, unable to escape because every exit to the house loops back onto itself. The complete text is available online:

http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/heinlein/
 

  • "Division by Zero," by Ted Chiang. Chiang's 1991 story begins with a famously flawed proof that 1 equals 2, which utilizes an illegal division by zero. The protagonist later discovers a valid proof of the same theorem -- that 1 equals 1 and, therefore, that mathematics is fundamentally inconsistent -- and is driven mad by the realization. "Division by Zero" offers solid explanations of why division by zero is impermissible and of Gödel's first incompleteness theorem, and it explores the mathematical process in a very human way. (Chiang's collection includes other fine stories about mathematics, such as "Story of Your Life" and "Understand.")

    Chiang, Ted. Stories of Your Life and Others. New York: Tor. 2002.
     

  • "Fermat's Best Theorem," by Janet Kagan. This story, originally published in 1995, imagines an exclusive society of mathematicians who have all proven Fermat's Last Thoerem but withheld their proofs so that other mathematicians might have the opportunity to strive for the same goal. The math is secondary to the story, but the narrative is engaging and would likely prove inspiring to reluctant mathematics students.

    Reprinted in Absolute Magnitude, eds. Warren Lapine and Stephen Pagel. New York: Tor. 1997.

     

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