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.
Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang
Content Warnings: Past Trauma, Substance Abuse, Emotional Abuse
Cas Russell is known for accomplishing the impossible for her wealthy clientele. It helps that she is really good at math. Cas inherently understands the trajectory of a bullet, the probability of an attack, or the likelihood of success. Essentially, she can calculate all possible answers to any problem in seconds. However, all that math severely tests her sanity throughout the novel as she struggles with substance abuse to cope with overwhelming equations. During a routine extraction, Cas witnesses people across L.A. doing things without their knowledge or consent. With the help of a noble P.I. and a tech expert, Cas solves an international conspiracy. Rampant mind-control makes for an interesting combination of unreliable narration, dubious friendships, and no easy answers.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
Content Warnings: Racism and Racial Slurs, Sexism and Misogyny, Homophobia
This mathematical science fiction book unpacks the creation and destruction of cities across dimensions and time. When enough stories are told about a city, a human manifestation of the place is born. A dimensional being wants to kill New York City before it can fully manifest in the bodies of six residents. Our math-magician, Queens, or Padmini Prakash, is a financial engineering Master’s student on a student visa who longs to be a pure mathematician. Unfortunately, she is stuck on a Wall Street career path to eventually obtain a worker’s visa. When she becomes Queens, she uses mathematical concepts to break down the tendrils that attack her borough’s character. As a side note, New York City and the other boroughs are also badass embodiments of their respective homes. I have never feared a Starbucks more.
The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole
Content Warning: Past Trauma
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.
Middlegame by Seanan Mcguire
Content Warnings: Self-Harm and Suicide, Explicit Depictions of Mental Illness, Emotional Abuse, Eugenics
This book involves magic, eugenics, and the panic of twentysomethings. So, we have your classic evil alchemist enacting the worst twins-reared-apart study to maximize the potential of his human test subjects. As a result, the God-like twins grow up chatting with each other in a long-distance telepathic relationship but find it difficult to relate to real children. Dodger can solve mathematical equations underlying every physical object and human interaction. However, dismantling the foundation of the universe using mathematics leads her to feelings of isolation and acts of self-harm. Her twin Roger is a wordsmith who can make anyone do anything. They are both a little lost when they find each other for the first time on a university campus. Instead of remaking the world, the two decide to do anything to keep the world intact.
Imaginary Numbers by Seanan Mcguire
Content Warnings: Explicit depictions of Mental Illness, Emotional Abuse
We now arrive in the InCrypted world from the perspective of Sarah Zellaby, rehabilitated cuckoo. Sarah is from a predatory telepathic supernatural race whose species is excellent at math and manipulation. However, unlike others of her kind, she developed empathy for humans as the adopted cousin of the Price family (cryptozoologists, protectors of the supernatural). After recovering from a particularly stressful battle, Sarah decides it’s time to go back into the world and see Artie, her best friend, cousin, and love of her life. Unfortunately, when she arrives, she uncovers a nest of cuckoos who won’t back down without a fight. (It doesn’t help that all cuckoos literally look alike). Using advanced mathematics, Sarah fights back. Get ready for a will they won’t they amidst a battle for the ages in this mathematical science fiction book.
If knowledge is power, these heroes have wells of the stuff: equations, formulas, and proofs at the ready. The conflict between mathematical abilities and mind control allows for an attack on pure reason and takes advantage of flaws present in characters with superior logical analysis. In short, mathematical science fiction books are a downright fun solution to conquering your demons.