Arithmophobia summarized

by Ralph Dumain

Arithmophobia: An Anthology of Mathematical Horror, edited by Robert Lewis. Polymath Press, 2024.


INTRODUCTION / Robert Lewis / 5

ONE-TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE / Elizabeth Massie / 11

SPLINTERS / Miguel Fliguer & Mike Slater / 22

MANIFOLD THOUGHTS / Patrick Freivald / 47

REAL NUMBERS / Liz Kaufman / 60

ERATOSTHENES’ MAP Damon Nomad / 92


TRAINS PASSING / Martin Zeigler / 141


CRITICAL MASS / Rivka Crowbourne /177

LOST AND FOUND / Joe Stout / 185


SOLVE FOR X / Wil Forbis / 216


THE GHOSTS OF THE SPIRAL / Maxwell I. Gold / 259


*     *     *

This apparently is the first anthology of its kind, combining two genres—mathematical fiction and horror fiction—the former much lesser known than the latter. It is quite entertaining with some intriguing plots and some interesting ideas. I recommend it for people potentially or actually interested in this union of genres. I present here summaries of the stories with some comments.

*     *     *

I am pulling out of the order of the contents stories which intersect with a particular interest of mine—higher-dimensional geometries and spaces.

“Splinters” by Miguel Fliguer & Mike Slater, pp. 22-46.

This story combines higher-dimensional geometry—where the extra dimensions are not integers!—Lovecraft, and existential dread.

“Manifold Thoughts” by Patrick Freivald, pp. 47-59.

This involves a computer simulation of 11-dimensional manifolds, manifesting intelligent behavior. What is spacetime geometry thinking? Working on the computer simulation leads to a suicide. The manifolds continue to suck others into their deaths.

“A Presence Beyond the Shadows” by David Lee Summers, pp. 245-258.

“Nick Levy specialized in applying vector analysis to four-dimensional topology.” With a colleague he devised a method to detect a physical fourth dimension. His wife Barbara prods him to spring his special goggles home to look for ghosts. Scouting around the house, Nick comes upon some anomalies. He couldn’t figure out what the glowing orbs he spotted really were, also because the mapping of prospective four-dimensional entities onto three dimensions was no simple, transparent process. He is temporarily diverted when his daughter attempts to enlist him in solving her math problems. The little girl runs to mommy, and hearing a scream from the other room, they find that Nick has disappeared. She puts on the goggles to look for Nick, and what she finds is macabre.

Now following are summaries of the other stories. Many contain interesting ideas or plot developments or both.

* * *

“One-Two, Buckle My Shoe” by Elizabeth Massie, pp. 11-21.

This is in my view one of the two most horrifying stories in this anthology, as it combines numerical obsession with the sadism of torture.

“Real Numbers” by Liz Kaufman, pp. 60-91.

An anti-social computer geek who shuns the humanities signs up for a college course in philosophy of mathematics, which comes to obsess and completely transform him. It begins with the basic ontological question— realism vs anti-realism: if numbers exist, where? His growing obsession with this conundrum and the unsatisfactory solutions proposed alters his fundamental habits and turns him into a mensch. He becomes more aware of a wrongness in the world and in himself. He becomes obsessed with counting, and concludes that some numbers—even numbers—are better than others. This undermines his social functionality and he loses his mind, purportedly overwhelmed by odd numbers. An interesting tale with an inferable moral of the story on all these points.

“Eratosthenes’ Map” by Damon Nomad, pp. 92-111.

This story revolves around a cryptic linkage between a suicide, the search for a proof of Riemann’s hypothesis about prime numbers, ancient mystical belief systems, the search for a gate to heaven, a mysterious stranger, and the mapping of mathematical patterns onto geographical terrain. This leads to a search in the Holy Land, with the participants harboring different religious backgrounds and beliefs, including the holy power of mathematics on the part of Reinhart, who has a harrowing encounter with a supernatural spirit in a cave.

“They’ll Say It Was the Communists” by Sarah Lazarz, pp. 112-140.

Possibly the most horrifying story in this anthology, unfolding at ominous length. A mysterious secret mathematics project produces alarming effects among the elite mathematicians who disappear into this secret project.

“Trains Passing” by Martin Zeigler, pp. 141-156.

A prospective ride on the Very Fast Automated Railway proves to be irresistible. Jean as a math teacher wants to experience what she teaches abstractly: the moment when two trains running at a constant velocity in opposite directions pass one another, something achievable only via automation. A stranger, Samantha, sits down next to her. They converse, Jean reveals her interest, and there’s more to Samantha than meets the eye.

“Asymmetrical Dreams” by Josh Snider, pp. 157-176.

A professor is obsessed with symmetry, which he equates with order. A pair of mysterious packages arrives on his doorstep, which prove to have the property of quantum entanglement (not stated as such), exhibiting spooky action at a distance. They turnout to be books, which eventually display other peculiar qualities and alter the professor’s domestic environment, manifesting symmetries with a vengeance, ultimately yielding a judgment on him.

“Critical Mass” by Rivka Crowbourne, pp. 177-184.

A hyper-violent creature—a lycomorph— has been engineered for military purposes by physicists using the science of numinometrics. The energy generated to create that monster transcends the customary laws of physics, transcends the natural order and opens up a terrifying prospective. Should this research be stopped?

“Lost and Found” by Joe Stout, 185-198.

This story involves a man who is lost—a math teacher preoocupied with ‘Belphegor’s Prime’—and her servant Irene. There is something pernicious behind this scenario, and the man must match mathematical wits with his hostess. She is a brutal teacher. But there is one final surprise.

“A Strange Thing Happened at the Coffee Shop” by Brian Knight, pp. 199-215.

The bizarre events in the shop are apparently triggered by some master programming errors. A character named Heather declares in a manuscript that someone named Alice is reading “Reality is Digital; Experience is Analog,” and this has something to do with the contradiction between quantum and classical mechanics, but the bizarre transformations of the scenario persist.

“Solve for X” by Wil Forbis, pp. 216-244.

A writer who never liked math reflects on how math changed his life on the brink of adolescence, involving his tutor Darleen. And then there’s her sister Tessa, an entirely different type of person. The writer attempts to liken literature to math, contra Darleen. Darleen mysteriously disappears, and the plot thickens, with a new tutor, bullies, and the surprise appearance of Tessa. The story turns macabre, but the writer-narrator and Tessa survive, and the writer brings us up to date with his success.

“The Ghosts of the Spiral” by Maxwell I. Gold, pp. 259-261.

A prose poem about entropy and equations.

Finished reading 28 April 2024. Notes compiled 28 April 2024, completed & edited 19 May 2024.

Mathematical Fiction & Related Works: A Guide

Martin Gardner, Mathematical Games, & the Fourth Dimension
(web guide & bibliography)

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources: A Selective Work in Progress


Book Review:
Arithmophobia: An Anthology of Mathematical Horror Edited by Robert Lewis

(The Monster Librarian)

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Uploaded 19 May 2024

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