Mathematical Fiction Recommendations
Based on my mood/inspiration, I'm going to share some works of mathematical fiction (specifically, short ones) each term of the 2014-2015 year as a way to highlight a passion I have when I'm not exploring it in the classroom in an FSEM
"Welcome to the Hotel Infinity" by Nancy Casey (1991; see web link below).
This story is a delightful version of explaining and exploring Hilbert's Infinite Hotel, which can make vacancies for any finite or countably infinite number of new guests, even when it is full. I like this story for several reasons:
1. The tone and point of view of the narrator
2. The length and level to which things are explained
3. Unlike almost all of the mathematical fiction stories that people know and share, this one is written by a woman.
The well-known short story on this topic is "The Extraordinary Hotel or the Thousand and First Journey of Ion the Quiet" (1968), by Naum Ya. Vilenkin (often misattributed to Stanislaw Lem).
"Division by Zero" by Ted S. Chiang. Appears in Stories of Your Life and Others. Tor Books: 2002.
This is a story that, like winter, is far from light-hearted, but explores the idea of mathematical inconsistency--rather, what if mathematics were not consistent (eg., if 2=1 or 1=0)? In some beautiful vignettes that introduce both sides of a couple caught in the middle of this interesting what-if, as well as carefully unveiling the mathematical ideas that this story brings into question, one cannot help but become emotionally confronted by the consequences of situations (or proofs) one does not expect and cannot change.
I learned of this story through Alex Kasman's Mathematical Fiction website, and his entry on this one includes a link to where this story is freely published on the web: http://kasmana.people.cofc.edu/MATHFICT/mfview.php?callnumber=mf194
"The Red Badge of Courage" by Colin Adams. Appears in Riot at the Calc Exam and Other Mathematically Bent Stories, pp.41-45. American Mathematical Society: 2009.
This story in particular is the perfect thing to read as a sophomore before entering your next midterm, or for a faculty member as you wade through autumn term. It's a war story, and it's also a comprehensive calculus exam story. I will say no more. Expect to laugh a lot in the five, quick pages. Contact me if you'd like to borrow a copy (I'm looking into fair use rules before sharing anything on the web).
Colin Adams is a mathematician with a particularly favorite book on knot theory. See his website at Williams College: