A Guide to Conquering Your Demons with 5 Mathematical Sci-Fi Books

From Book Riot:

Mathematical science fiction books use mathematics in world-building to advance the plot and build characters. Building on Clarke’s three laws, Mathematical Fiction allows readers to discover the appeal of solvable questions. The right math can solve any problem, outsmart any foe, or conquer any demon. STEM fields that may not interest readers in real life become fascinating in fiction. I’m a math novice at best, but I always love it when mathematics explains impossible feats of heroism in sci-fi. I have compiled an action-packed list filled with suspense, romance, and silliness as well as advanced mathematics.

. . . .

The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Welcome readers, to a little romantic locked room mystery novella from the dual perspectives of Trinity Jordan and Li Wei. Trinity is a self-proclaimed homebody recovering from an accident that took away her old life. Meanwhile, in the apartment across the hall, Li Wei is relearning what it means to be an almost-human A.I. unit. He uses statistical analysis and observation to acclimate to his new environment, developing a fascination for his gorgeous neighbor Trinity. With the help of Trinity’s friends, Li’s aunt, and Penny, a particularly capable Home A.I. Personal Assistant, they remember the truth. The feeling of wrongness is always on the tip of your tongue, just waiting for you to taste the rancid foundation Trinity and Li’s safety is built on. This Mathematical Sci-Fi novella is very boy-next-door meets Skynet and I love it.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

As someone who took just enough math to get a respectable SAT Math score, then stopped forever, Mathematical Sci-Fi sounds a bit intimidating, but perhaps PG needs to give it a try.

He can’t rule out the possibility that math has changed since the invention of the decimal point.

8 thoughts on “A Guide to Conquering Your Demons with 5 Mathematical Sci-Fi Books”

  1. Having read the full article I still have no idea what “Mathematical Sci-Fi” is supposed to be. Saying it builds on Clarke’s three laws is no help at all as they are about science and technology and have only an incidental relation to Maths.

    The synopses of the works suggest that the characters include mathematicians – some with magical mathematical prowess – but this is not particularly uncommon in SF and not obviously different from characters who are uncommonly good at physics or chemistry. So, can anyone who has read the books tell me what is especially mathematical about the titles and what “Mathematical Sci-Fi” really is (supposing it exists at all)?

    • Search me.
      That’s as obscure (and miniscule?) a sub-genre as I’ve heard of.
      It might not even be SF but litfic. Or mislabeled fantasy.
      Tradpubs like to invent pigeon holes.

      The closest I can recall right now is the THE MATHEMATICS OF MAGIC, the second HAROLD SHEA fantasy, collected in the various INCOMPLETE ENCANTER anthologies. Which, while a classic and lots of fun, is neither SF nor about magic.

      • Okay, so I waded into their source list and…
        They’re counting comic books (most of which are fantasy), fantasy stories, and by the featured cover, paranormal romance, in a list Of 500+ compiled by some guy online.

        As near as I can tell they’re counting computer science and robotics as “mathematics” and any book with AIs as math. And being very loose with CLARKE’s Third Law.
        (Any sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic.)

        By those loose standards they should be citing Asimov more than Clarke.
        Books like THE FORBIN PROJECT and its sequels, WHEN HARLIE WAS ONE, ME, and pretty much anything with an AI whether central or incidental. THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS qualifies.

        I’m not impressed.

        I prefer my classifications to refer what the story is about not the handwaving that moves it along.

        • Oddly enough, the “three laws” reference had me thinking about Asimov and it was only when I re-read the OP that I picked up that it was Clarke’s laws. You are certainly correct when you say that Asimov would be more appropriate given the AI references.

          I still have a vision of real “Mathematical Sci-Fi” floating around in my brain, but I can’t actually pin down what it would amount to. It would be a very minor sub-genre: I would probably read it, but then I’m odd enough that I treat Goldstein’s “Classical Mechanics” as a comfort read.

          One problem with your SF related comments is that you keep making me think “I must re-read that”. So I’ve got to pull “The Compleat Enchanter” off the shelves to see if my memory that it was written as if it was SF is actually correct (though not as much as “Magic Inc. of course). Since my Ballantine paperback edition dates back to 1976 it’s probably 30+ years since I read Harold Shea and my memory is probably totally wrong! And it was only yesterday that you were trying to get me to re-read Niven & Pournelle!

          • As I mentioned in my original comment, mathematics beyond the high school level is pretty much equivalent to magic for me. 😉

          • Your memory is correct.
            The premise of the Harold Shea books is a lot like Larry Niven’s SVETZ stories: parallel worlds with different natural law and narratives that take protagonists from non-fantasy worlds where the protagonist uses a “scientific” process to travel into realms of fantasy. In the Shea stories, it is a mathematical formula derived from logical equations and literary stories; in FLIGHT OF THE HORSE it is a time machine.

            Niven’s opinion being that since time travel is (supposed to be) imossible, any time-travel story must be fantasy rather than SF and thus, all bets are off. Amusingly so.

            And as a matter of fact, both series play their scenarios for light and amusing, adventure rather than anything overly serious.

            BTW, DeCamp and followers have added to the HAROLD SHEA canon since 1976, leading to things like the Complete Compleat Enchanter. Look over at BAEN:


            There’s at least three volumes.
            DeCamp and Sprague were decades ahead of tbeir times.

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