SL Huang wrote a book that turns math into a goddamn superpower, which is a thing I’d love to have because I have the math skills of a stump. I love too her journey for this book, as it is now released with Tor in a bee-yoo-tee-ful hardcover edition that you totally want. For the record, here’s what I said about this book: “This book lines up like a perfect, elegant equation — it’s fast, furious, and adds up to one of the coolest, most crackin’ reads this year.” So, here she is to talk about the supremely rad Zero Sum Game:
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Coming off of a pretty damaging week in the news cycle, I was having a difficult time writing this post. I finally said to my partner, “what on earth should I write about?” and gave her a list of topics I was considering. She said, “You know what? Right now, I want to read about something fun.”
So I’m going to talk about math.
WAIT WAIT WAIT DON’T RUN AWAY!
I’m going to talk about math as something that gives me joy, and how much it matters that we put what gives us joy into our books. Because it does. It matters. It’s important.
People often do a double-take when I say my antiheroine’s violent superpower is math. Then they see I have a degree in it from MIT and they kind of nod and say, “ah!” It fits with the old chestnut of writing what you know, sure—but I’m not only writing what I know. I’m writing what I love.
Even before I chose it as my major, math has always been something that has delighted me on a personal, visceral level. Like burying your face in a cat’s fur—that’s what I want to do with math. I remember in college sometimes curling up with my favorite Apostol textbooks and falling to sleep on them, just because they were freakin’ comforting to have next to me.
One memorable time, I blurted, “Antiderivatives give me orgasms!” and someone wrote it up on our dorm whiteboard, where it stayed for about six months, in infamy. Later, my friend and I wanted to get T-shirts with our favorite topological space, because it’s a COOL SPACE and it makes me grin and gives me warm fuzzies and if you catch me at a con and ask me about it I will squeal and tell you JUST WHY IT’S SO COOL.
(Most people laugh and tell me I’m cute when I do this. A small percentage back slowly away.)
Just like any other pursuit, even for people who love it, math can be horribly hard—I’ve had struggles with it throughout my studies, often. But at the core has always been that delight.
So in interviews, when people ask me why I chose to write a superheroine whose power is being good at math, my answer is always the same: Because I love math. It gives me joy. It makes me want to jump up and click my heels together. And I want to share that joy with others—even people who personally hate math, I want them to be able to read and glory in an entertaining ride, just for the few hours they’re with me, and say afterwards, holy mackerel I hate math but that was SO FLAT-OUT FUN.
Right now especially, I feel like we need that. You need that, I need that, we all need that.
When it feels like the world is burning down around us—both metaphorically and literally, because holy hell climate change and I can’t even hold that in my HEAD—it’s so easy to feel helpless. Utterly powerless. And, as a writer—it’s so easy to feel like our writing is pointless, like why are we even crawling up another day and banging down fake words on a keyboard when so much else is all going wrong.
Sometimes we can answer that bleakness by writing our rage—which I fully, thoroughly encourage. But I also want to encourage everyone out there, everyone who writes, or reads, or reviews… goddammit, let’s also write our joy. Claim it, celebrate it, blow it into the book marketplace for everyone else to escape into also. Don’t let the abusers in power take that away from us, too. Dig down and find the good things that matter to you, that make you want to laugh out loud or dance and twirl or give someone bone-crushing hugs—and grab those things with both hands and claim them and celebrate them. Whether it’s bees or languages or feminism or your family, let’s take those moments of glee together and share them with each other. Let’s glory in all our vast diversity of geekery and passions, and remind each other of all the reasons, small and large, why our world is worth fighting for.
Find your joy. Write your joy. That, too, is resistance.
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S. L. Huang has a math degree from MIT and is a weapons expert and professional stuntwoman who has worked in Hollywood on Battlestar Galactica and a number of other productions. Her novels include the Cas Russell series (formerly known as Russel’s Attic). Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016.