The Muse of Research: Math and Other Marvels (S. L. Huang)

One of the great pleasures of reading is hanging out with folks whose storytelling game is totally different from my own. S. L. Huang writes the action-packed adventures of a mathematical mercenary-superhero, Cas Russell, whose style of math and narration alike are totally different from mine. (I’m a geometer by inclination; Cas and her creator both incline to the algebraic end of things.)

Today is the release date for Plastic Smile, the fourth volume of the Russell’s Attic series. The first three books are available here as a box set, and at time of writing are for sale at an irresistible price so new readers can get up to speed.

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Talk about your nonfictional obsessions! (could be academic training, stuff you like to read about, topics that pique your curiosity)

Everything!  Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But I love learning about pretty much anything, even fields like linguistics or neurobiology or business that are eons away from my own studies.

But my primary area of nerd enticement is mathematics, particularly logic and complexity theory.

How do they find their way into your fiction?

My novels are what I term “mathematical fiction” — novels about fictional mathematics the same way science fiction is about fictional science.  My main protagonist is someone with mathematical superpowers, because if you could do math — any sort of math — really, REALLY fast, then what couldn’t you do?

I love integrating what I learn into my fiction in all respects.  In fact, I would say learning new things is a way I brainstorm!

Any story inspired by something interesting (nonfictonal) that you learned?

Every story.  I can’t think of anything I’ve written that doesn’t have nonfictional elements of brainstorming at its base.  It ranges from my firearms knowledge making it into any story that uses guns, such as in Russell’s Attic or “Hunting Monsters,” to the thrust of my third novel being inspired by a mathematical paper.

What’s the interplay, for you, between project-specific research and writing?

There’s a lot of crossover.  I research for specific parts of books as they come up, but often I’ll be reading a scientific article and think, “Oh, I HAVE to put this in a book!”
a nonfictional detail that saved your story/characters/setting from being boring/stereotypical or otherwise not up to your artistic standards

This is a fascinating question, because I very often have the feeling of additional learning swooping in and saving me from cliches.  Sometimes it’s one of my knowledgeable betas reading a chapter and catching me in a Hollywood-ism that wouldn’t actually be true in real life — such as medical or engineering details I never thought to check.  Sometimes it’s a personal experience, like when I worked with the Hell’s Angels on a movie set and rewrote some references to a biker gang.  Sometimes I fall down a rabbit hole doing research and end up rewriting the entire way I thought the plot would go.

What kind of nonfictional info are you addicted to?

I’m always particularly fascinated by any learning that enhances my understanding of how the universe fits together, whether it’s physics or sociology.

What new topics are on your horizon for further reading?

I’m currently working my way through the physics book The Theoretical Minimum.  I’d like to get back to my logic and complexity studies a bit more, and I’m always reading new and fascinating articles that cross my Twitter feed.

My lament is that I don’t have more time to read and learn . . . and that my memory isn’t big enough to hold the entire world’s knowledge!

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