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  • Rev Horror

Arithmophobia: An Anthology of Mathematical Horror

Written by: Elizabeth Massie, Miguel Fliguer, Mike Slater, Patrick Freivald, Liz Kaufman, Damon Nomad, Sarah Lazarz, Martin Zeigler, Josh Snider, Rivka Crowbourne, Joe Stout, Brian Knight, Wil Forbis, David Lee Summers, & Maxwell I. Gould (2024)

Edited by Robert (Bob) Lewis for Polymath Press

I was always a lot better at math than I really wanted to be. I never particularly enjoyed the subject, and while a part of me appreciated the puzzle-like sensation received from solving a particularly difficult math problem, I just couldn't shake the feeling that I hated everything about what I was doing until I felt the accomplishment of completing my task. Nevertheless, because of my (unfortunate to me) abilities, I was consistently placed on some Mathlympics team or other, advancing higher and higher in more elementary math subjects, and even becoming a high school tutor for a bit while paying my way through nursing school. Suffice to say, when I was given the opportunity to review the new book Arithmophobia: An Anthology of Mathematical Horror from the excellently-named Polymath Press, I didn't really figure there was a whole lot for someone like me to be afraid of.

While I wouldn't necessarily say that fear is the right word, this is an outstanding book that is, actually, quite a bit scary at times. It's an anthology book, filled with short stories covering math topics from basic algebra to theoretical physics (and everything in between). While not all of the stories are about math, every one of them contains some reference (at least) to the subject, with varying degrees of difficulty. The book as a whole is excellent, though at times with uneven story quality, but it was a hell of a fun read from start to finish. Some of the stories are funny, some are a bit confusing at times, and some will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, but every single one gets their point across succinctly enough to hold your attention and make you consider things from a mathematical perspective that you might not have otherwise had.

I won't break down each story within the book, though I highly recommend that you grab a copy of this one and do so for yourself, but I will talk about some of my favorite entries. The book starts off with the story One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Elizabeth Massie, an exceptionally strong start that quickly became a lot darker than I had expected. The story, about an obsessive daughter taking care of an invalid mother, was phenomenal, and really helped kick things off with a bang. The second story, Splinters by Miguel Fliguer and Mike Slater, features the transcript of a college lecture that turns more than a little Lovecraftian in its nihilistic descent into madness. The format was a little strange but worked perfectly for what the story was trying to convey, and it certainly felt like the authors had a lot more to say than could have been contained in such a small bite. This is one of the few that I feel could have worked even better as a longer story, because I definitely want to know more about what's been going on behind the scenes.

Trains Passing by Martin Zeigler was one of the more shocking entries, though the ending didn't exactly come out of left field. A fantastic meditation on the old "trains passing" word problems I'm sure you're all familiar with, it's an excellent and fairly short story that's well worth your attention. By far my favorite story, however, was Solve for X by Wil Forbis. A genuinely heartwarming story that reminds me a good bit of Summer of '84, it's a bit predictable perhaps but is incredibly well written. The style Forbis uses was right up my alley, and it's the wittiest tale of the bunch. It's funny and heartfelt while being terrifying in its realism, and it's the story I'd most like to see be made into a film. It's fantastic all around, and will definitely cause me to look into what else Forbis has written (which you can find at his own website).

To be honest, I didn't expect a whole lot from the book just because I found it difficult to imagine how well math could correlate with horror. I was totally wrong, and this is one of the more enjoyable horror books I've read in recent memory. I'm a sucker for short stories anyway, and the way that each of these authors took on the assignment was admirable and memorable. It's a fantastic book, and I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for more from Polymath Press. Fantastic read.

Who this book is for: Math nerds, Lovecraftian horror fans, Mrs. Smith (my Algebra teacher in high school, shoutout to the OG)

Bottom line: Fantastic from start to finish and with very few weak points, Arithmophobia is an excellent math-based horror short story book that is well worth a read. It's gory when it needs to be, clever throughout, and completely blew me away. Grab your copy from Polymath Press today. You'll be glad you did. And who says you won't use math after high school.

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