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Interview: J. D. Moyer on “The Equationist”

J D MoyerWhat was the inspiration for “The Equationist,” or what prompted you to write it?

Initially I was inspired by my mother-in-law, who is one of these people who sees connections and patterns all over the place. She’s not particularly mathematical, and many of the connections she makes seem like a stretch to minds like my own. But she’s a very lucky person—in that she has frequent good luck and positive coincidences—and I think her pattern-seeing has something to do with it. So I wanted to create a character with an unusual mind, who sees the world differently than everybody else, and explore both the advantages and costs of that perspective.

Later, after I’d written the story, I realized I’d been inspired by a minor character in Brainwave by Poul Anderson (which I read when I was about ten, as part of A Treasury of Great Science FictionVol. 2). In the first chapter of Brainwave, an unnamed boy experiments with graphing algebraic equations, and by the time his mother calls him down for breakfast, is “well on his way to inventing differential calculus.” Much to my disappointment, the boy never makes another appearance in the novel. Not only was that story my first introduction to the relationship between equations and shapes/patterns, but I think my subconscious mind decided the unnamed boy’s story should have more to it.


Was “The Equationist” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Sure—a lot of the family dynamics are pulled straight from my own life. My mother got a few good laughs when she read an early draft. And many of Niall’s emotions, especially as a child and his coming of age, are identical to my own during those times in my life.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

I’m not a mathematician—I never made it past trigonometry—so the bulk of research was getting the equations right. And it’s likely I made some mistakes—hopefully the story won’t make too many mathematicians cringe in horror.

I do like the idea of people and nations gravitating toward certain equations, even if it’s not mathematically rigorous. We’re all controlled by patterns and influences outside of our own control, often much more so than we realize. Unless we exert huge amounts of energy to change our habits and mental state, we’re subjected to the gravitational pulls of our parents, friends, and dominant cultural expectations.


What are you working on now?

I’m working on a near-future science fiction novel about mass involuntary gene editing.


Anything else you’d like to add?

I have a story called “Money in the Tortoise” coming out soon in The Intergalactic Medicine Show, as well as another story “Targeted Behavior” in Compelling Science Fiction. My novelette “The Icelandic Cure” (winner of the 2016 Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction contest) comes out in April (Omnidawn). My debut science fiction novel The Sky Woman is coming out on Flame Tree later this year. I hope readers look out for these stories and let me know what they think.


“The Equationist” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Clicking on Mr. Moyer’s photo will take you to his website.


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