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Division by Zero

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  394 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Published (first published June 1991)
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This is a story of love, and the devastating consequences of realising one’s love object is not as perfect as one thought.

The opening paragraph reads like a maths textbook and the second is set in a psychiatric hospital. Don’t let either put you off.

I married a man with a maths degree, and our child is now at university studying theoretical physics that is practically maths, but I am primarily a words person. This gave me a wonderful peek at the joy that can be found in numbers and patterns - t
Sep 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short
Wow, I'm really surprised by the low rating here. It's a mathematical horror-romance story, which kind of forces it to be geeky, creative and very unique. Maybe the low rating is because most people didn't understand it? It doesn't really require mathematical abilities, although it's probably preferable to read a short, simple, weird proof that "1=2" (the proof employs a stealthy fallacy), it's more literary and metaphorical than mathematical.
Faiza Sattar
Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
“Division by Zero”, another story from the collection “Stories of Your Life Others” explicates on the relationship between a married couple, Renee and Carl. It is a story about belief and disbelief, depression, uncertainty, negation of existential inquiries and integration of mathematics (or any scientific field) into personal lives. Renee is a gifted mathematician who proves arithmetic to be inconsistent: a theory that has potential to invalidate all acquired knowledge of humans. This discovery ...more
Fascinating read. Always interesting when a short story makes me go off on tangents reading encyclopedia articles about math theory. But I'm a bit weird that way. This story basically is two parallel stories in the story, one being a suicidal woman, and the other being her husband, both of journeys of questioning all that they believe in, one along the lines of math, the other along the lines of emotion. A thinking story for sure.
Ravindu Thimantha Gamage
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An original concept. A story that talks about the impact, that finding out something you love and believe in is invalid and imperfect, has on humans. A story intertwining maths and love; a story about depression, the uncertainty of love and reality, and suicide. One has to deal with the fact that she proved mathematics empirical and useless, and the other has to deal with the realisation he has about his love for his significant other being imperfect and useless. Although these seem like two com ...more
Lenka Judinová
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
There certainly aren't many books that would leave me fascinated by how mathematics works. That's mostly thanks to my loathe for maths and any theoretical theorems that I can never really work out. Still, this book proved me wrong and one would be astonished how easily and eagerly I managed to read it.

Divison by Zero is foremost about a married couple. Renee, an intellectually gifted mathematician and professor, and her husband Carl, a biologist. They are currently undergoing something you'd cal
Jacques Bezuidenhout
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read as part of Stories of Your Life and Others.

I think this is a very thought provoking short story.
It is quite intense on mathematical theory, but you don't really need to understand all of it.

There is quite a bit of internal fighting going on for Renee, and the parallel to that, the external factors that Carl is facing.

The story is told in a unique way, having very short chapters broken into a), b) parts for Renee and Carl's perspectives.

The ending is a bit abrupt, but reflecting on it afterw
Igor Stojanov
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Two stories are running in parallel, but 1 = 2. The first one describes the provability or arithmetic, and the latter the unpredictability of love and relationships. What if our primary assumptions under which we have built our mathematical system is faulty? What if we have built our relationships on faulty assumptions of ourselves?

Our world falls apart when our assumptions about arithmetic and our love have been proven to be wrong.

Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Short story in Stories of your life and others

I can't really give a summary of the story since there's so little of it that trying to would basically be a spoiler. And I think that's the issue I have with this one: very little happens. I get that it's structured to show a parallel between two people's journeys through difficult discoveries, using math as a metaphor. It's all very clever, but there's just no bite to it. I got all the math theory and understood the ideas the author was trying to c
Sudev Avinjikkad
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
The mathematical facts he repeats made the narration a bit interesting. Renee the mathematical genius , the heroin of the story gets depressed after discovering a disturbing mathematical proof. The story is quiet good. Though it didn't made my mind blow. Maybe cause I suck at maths. And the ending was confusing too.
Rao Javed
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-story
Somewhat ambiguous and not easy to get but quite unique. Though the idea wasn't justified I believe
David Meditationseed
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Where do we support the ideas that make us safe in our understanding of reality?

Do any of these ideas actually describe something intrinsic in things, or are they mere relationships and attempts at classification? Is there consistency in what is obvious? Or is the obvious and the doubt part of relativities and not of a real essence?

These are some of the questions that permeate this beautiful tale of empathy and understanding of life.
Hans Cacdac
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Will they really part ways? Division by zero is "literally undefined".
Ben Truong
"Division by Zero" is a science fiction short story written by Ted Chiang, which was first published in Full Spectrum 3 magazine and later compiled in Stories of Your Life and Others (2002). It is an interesting about a mathematician who inadvertently proves an arithmetic inconsistent, which irrevocably changed her life.

Renee, an intellectually gifted mathematician and professor, inadvertently proves arithmetic inconsistent. This discovery causes her great mental anguish, as she can no longer fi
Saurabh Goyal
May 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What if when we come to limits of rationality? What if our frameworks for life, which we build after years of labour and sacrifices, appear hopelessly inadequate? What if certainty is just an illusion of mind not a fact of the universe?
Why do we act in ways that are in contradiction with our own self-image? Why do we fall in love and out of love? Is empathy really compassionate or only a masked attempt to heal oneself of one's past?

These are the questions posed by this short story. As always Ted
A.N. Mignan
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
About when a mathematician loses her mind after finding the proof that 1=2, thus leading to the collapse of mathematics and reason. Nice historical references to brilliant theoreticians (Russell, Goedel, Einstein…) but and ending slightly off. Overall a great mathematical fiction, I wish there were a lot more around
Fernando Suarezserna
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm not into sad stories, yet I really enjoyed this one, on a deep level I believe the best way to describe it is "beautiful". On storytelling, the parallel between the math theorems and the story of the married couple is masterful. One of the best short stories I've read.
Marina Latysheva
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
We just got to keep moving, in spite of everything.
Apr 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Not accidental that I keep on thinking this is "Understand".
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
bittersweet but deeply insightful
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Anders Næss
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I couldn’t see where the story was going, but the ending was a beautiful and sad encapsulation. emotionally insightful and relatable, complex, even in the small format of the story.
Elizabeth Hoffmann
Nov 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
Wholly unsatisfying.
Mónica Espinoza Cangahuala
Not really my cup of thee. I liked the way the story was constructed. The chapters were adequately numbered and the story flows nicely. I was dissapointed with the ending although I can appreciate its implication with the title. As in: a division by zero is undefined just like the ending is left undefined. But it seems too forced. I just felt like the story was wanting something more.
Basil H
Dec 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
Offers a sharp contrast between the logic of arithmetic and the emotions of relationships. Clever idea, but the lack of reconciliation in the story ultimately leaves for an unsatisfactory ending.
Jon Cronshaw
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Listen to my thoughts on this story on the Short Science Fiction Review podcast.
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Math and love. That's one epic combination.
Anh Nguyen
rated it liked it
Jan 03, 2018
WIll Ygof
rated it it was amazing
Jan 29, 2018
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Ted Chiang is an American speculative fiction writer. His Chinese name is Chiang Feng-nan. He graduated from Brown University with a Computer Science degree. He currently works as a technical writer in the software industry and resides in Bellevue, near Seattle, Washington. He is a graduate of the noted Clarion Writers Workshop (1989).

Although not a prolific author, having published only eleven sh
“But what happened, it was almost as if I were a theologian proving that there was no God. Not just fearing it, but knowing it for a fact. Does that sound absurd?'
'It's a feeling I can't convey to you. It was something that I believed deeply, implicitly, and it's not true, and I'm the one who demonstrated it.'
He opened his mouth to say that he knew exactly what she meant, that he had felt the same things as she. But he stopped himself: for this was an empathy that separated rather than united them, and he couldn't tell her that.”
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