I'm trying to find the title and author of a short novel I read about 10 years ago. The book was in English, and the writer was a woman, and not a "big name" as far as I recall. The story concerned an alien (possibly female?), a member of a race which did not perform mathematics as an intellectual exercise, but experienced it at an intuitive way, essentially living the equations. I do remember specifically that she lives on a desert planet.

Due to their mathematical excellence, she, and maybe some of her colleagues, are hired by another race to solve a particular set of equations. She comes to realise that the solutions have some kind of physical significance to allowing FTL travel, with the huge implications that would have.

  • goodreads.com/book/show/23503575-resistance-is-futile?
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 26, 2021 at 12:39
  • @Valorum The story I'm looking for was definitely set on an alien planet. This looks good though, and I may well read it in the future Commented Jun 26, 2021 at 12:43
  • There is a similar race in Becky Chambers Wayfarers series (several books, each successive one about minor characters in the first). The members of the race have an infection that alters their mind to allow them to navigate wormholes.
    – eshier
    Commented Jun 26, 2021 at 16:53
  • It must be in there somewhere @user14111 but I haven't found the right search terms yet :( Commented Jun 26, 2021 at 23:50

1 Answer 1


Kudos to user14111 for providing the key to cracking this problem by directing me to the Mathematical Fiction site. The various search terms I tried did not give anything useful so eventually I resolved to "Browse by Motif", choosing the motif "Female Mathematicians". There are only 256 entries, and after browsing the first few pages I found what I was looking for: Distances by Vandana Singh.

The summary:

Most members of Anasunya's species have "a gift". Since she has a gift of mathematics, she leaves her aquatic home and begins working at the Temple of Mathematical Arts. She has a gift that allows her to intuitively understand, almost to live in equations and is asked by another alien species to study equations describing an intricate higher dimensional geometric object that is beyond their understanding. As she studies it, she comes to think that the embedded, self-intersecting, 4-dimensional sub-manifold may not be merely interesting and beautiful in an abstract sense, but may have tremendous significance in the real world as well.

hits the main point, a female mathematician who "lives" mathematics, but does not mention some of the other points I remembered (the desert world and the application of the equations to FTL travel), which is probably why my searches failed. Other reviews on Goodreads confirm these points though, and in particular the review here confirms that the other race are from a planet called Tirana:

when mathematicians from the planet Tirana, 18-light-years-distant, ask Anasuya's help in solving a series of equations, she finds the new geometrical space they present her with intriguing. But as she explores the new space, she soon comes to suspect that it represents an actual physical system, and that the equations she is being asked to solve have a significance the Tiranis are concealing.

The point is that the equations could lead to FTL travel. The Tiranans want the solutions, but don't want to reveal why, so that they can keep the secret of FTL travel to themselves.

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