Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ted Chiang's "Division by Zero" (short story, non-genre): Tale of an extreme obsession

This story is divided into 9 parts, all except last into 3 subparts (opener, a & b).

Opener is mathematical wisdom - like Godel's Theorem. It uses factual language in all nine parts, but I'm not really sure it's talking facts - I wasn't paying attention to these subparts. If they are related in any way to the story, I could not see the relation - except that the woman at the heart of the story is a mathematician.

This is the story of Renee & her husband Carl. "a" subpart are from Renee's perspective; "b" from Carl's. And it was an uninteresting story, at least to me.

Renee was a great mathematician, now past her professional prime. Her latest discovery is that arithmetic is "inconsistent" - any number can be proved to be equal to any other! Showing her proof to colleagues doesn't help; no one is able to find a flaw.

This inconsistent arithmetic discovery shatters her balance, & she ends up in a mental asylum.

Just after she gets out of asylum, Carl has discovered that he only feels a sense of duty towards her - he can no longer see the woman he married. So the marriage is headed towards breakup.

Full text of this story is available for download.

Collected in.

  1. Ted Chiang's "Stories of Your Life and Others".

Fact sheet.

First published: Lou Aronica, Amy Stout & Betsy Mitchell (Eds)' "Full Spectrum 3", 1991.
Rating: C
Related: All stories of Ted Chiang.