Coming to Town: Stuart Rojstaczer for The Mathematician’s Shiva

“Her craziness was happily wed to her intellect. There are no reasonable geniuses in this world, I am convinced.” So writes middle-aged fictional geophysicist Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch of his mother, within the pages of actual geophysicist Stuart Rojstaczer‘s debut novel The Mathematician’s Shiva. A brilliant mathematician, Rachela is rumored to be taking the secret proof to the Navier-Stokes equation to her grave. But first, and trust me, somehow this all works, Rojstaczer gives us alternating scenes of heartbreak and humor, introducing Rachela on her deathbed along with her fantastically weird family. As the story continues, a parade of mathematicians will arrive to poke around her house in search of her last work, but there is so much more than the ongoing narrative at work: Rojstaczer employs chapters recalling Sasha’s youth, learning mathematics at his father’s hand, complete with diagrams and historical context — “Leo” in one of his father’s instructional stories turns out to be Leonhardt Euler — as well as excerpts from Rachela’s memoir A Lifetime in Mathematics, chronicling her Jewish family’s flight from the rise of Hitler. If this is beginning to sound too heady or heavy, a brief remark: even the chapter titles contain bits of humor. And if you pause to take a sip of vodka as often as Rachela’s younger brother Shlomo…

Rojstaczer, a long-time professor at Duke University now living in California, will be at Durham’s The Regulator Bookshop this Thursday, September 11, at 7 pm for a reading and signing event. Via email, he answered some questions about his book and his background in reading and writing.


Q: You and “Sasha” are both Wisconsin-born geophysicists, the son of Polish-Jewish post-WW2 immigrants. Do the similarities end there, or is there any shared familial or other background of yours which you were able to use to inform the character and his family?

Sasha is older I am, has a bit stronger Eastern European roots, is more arrogant, is a better mathematician, and is a lifelong skirt-chaser. He’s an amalgam of people I know and love and sure, there’s more than a little of me in Sasha. You can only act so much in creating a character. There’s at least a little of me in all of the characters in this novel. Originally, the family in this novel was going to be Hungarian. But I quickly realized I knew nothing about Hungarian culture. In contrast, I know about Polish and Russian Jewish culture intimately. It’s a bitter fit. Grounding this novel in a culture I know emotionally and intellectually gives it necessary and vital authenticity, I think.

Q: A novel with (even sparse!) mathematical formulae and graphs seems that it could be a hard sell, particularly for a debut novelist. Was this the case at all? Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to Town, belated edition: Lev Grossman at Flyleaf Books for The Magician’s Land

Lev Grossman was recently in the Carolinas for a stop on his tour for The Magician’s Land, which debuted on the NY Times bestseller list at #1. At a “standing room only” event at Flyleaf Books, he talked about The Magicians and The Magician King, read from The Magician’s Land, and engaged in a lively Q&A session with the audience. Since, he has also just appeared at The Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors in Winston-Salem; previously, he was a guest of the North Carolina Literary Festival in April, as well as previous book tour stops (for The Magician King in August 2011 at Flyleaf Books, and for The Magicians paperback release in June 2010 at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville). From the road, he took the time for an email interview, after which I’ve included my review of The Magician’s Land.


At Flyleaf Books, August 2014


At the North Carolina Literary Festival, April 2014

Q: You’ve been to North Carolina quite a few times in the past few years. Any particularly fond memories of your readings or other events?

Really my fondest memory is of going out for BBQ after a reading with a bunch of boisterous nerds. In New York City one is always haunted by the sense that one’s BBQ is not truly authentic … now I know that this is true.

Q: In a recent appearance on NPR’s Ask Me Another you mentioned almost in passing that after 10 years writing these characters, you’re ready to move on. Any hints yet about what you might be moving on to? Read the rest of this entry »

September newsletter: John Hodgman, tiltExpo, HMLT, Stuart Rojstaczer, Kim Harrison, John Darnielle, The Escapism Film Festival, Scott Westerfeld, and more!

Vol 4. No 9. September 5, 2014: The first Friday of the month has no fewer than five events to pique your interest, and the first week of the month has already brought the first of five six! seven! new books by North Carolina authors that will hit stores in September.

Let’s start with those events happening today (Friday, September 5):


  • While most festival events are on Saturday and are free, the Bookmarks Festival in Winston-Salem, NC does have a pair of ticketed “Eat and Greet” sessions on Friday, with authors Lisa Leake and Rita Mae Brown. (The Saturday lineup includes Lev Grossman, Tiphanie Yanique, Maggie Stiefvater, Morowa Yejidé, Margaret Stohl, and Jen McConnel, among many others.)\
  • Running Friday through Sunday,  The Escapist Expo returns as tiltExpo — “Triangle Game Initiative (TGI), producer of the East Coast Game Conference – will bring a new consumer event, tiltExpo, to the Durham Convention Center this September 5th, 6th, and 7th.” Guests include Bob Chipman, Chewie Slate, Rich Perrotta, Mating Habits of the Modern Geek, and the UNC “Humans vs Zombies” team, and programming includes open gaming, panels, a costume contest, and an accompanying music festival.
  • At 7 pm, DSI Comedy in Chapel Hill hosts a superhero-themed night of improv battle: “This Friday, six courageous comedians (Power Up!) will face their arch-nemeses Pantie Raid in an epic Cage Match battle! Using a super power based on YOUR suggestions, watch as they soar to new heights of comedy. Will our heroes emerge victorious in their fight against their lingerie-loving foes? Only YOU can decide.”
  • At 8 pm, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern presents “HMLT: a version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet” at Durham’s Oval Park outdoor amphitheatre (1100 Oakland Ave) at 8 pm — “With a focus on the disintegration of two powerful families, Little Green Pig brings its signature intensity to Shakespeare’s masterpiece about the pathology of denial.”
  • Also at 8 pm — The Carolina Theatre of Durham presents John Hodgman with special guest David Rees: “John Hodgman is a writer, humorist, geek celebrity, former professional literary agent and expert on all world knowledge. He was the bumbling PC in Apple’s long-running “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC” ad campaign.”

And before I get to the new books and other news, here’s a sampling (for the full listing, see further down) of events further ahead this month: Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, August 2014: New books from NewCon and Beccon, and two sf novels getting serious mainstream attention

From the Other Side, August 2014

By Paul Kincaid

[Editor's Note: "From the Other Side" is Paul Kincaid's monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]

So the biggest science fiction event in Britain has come and gone. For the record, I thought Capaldi makes a very interesting Doctor, but Moffatt remains a terrible scriptwriter. It seems to me that Doctor Who is going the way of Sherlock: glitzy and full of in-references for the fans, but rather short of coherent storytelling and convincing characterisation.

Oh, and we also had a Worldcon. Actually, by any measure, Loncon 3 was a raging success: more members and more attendees than any previous Worldcon; a more varied membership in terms of age, gender, nationality, than any big convention I’ve known; and probably the most intelligent and engaging programming you could hope to find. It also provided a stage for a couple of very interesting book launches.

The Race cover Paradox

NewCon Press launched a stack of books there, of which the most interesting, to my mind, is Nina Allan’s first full-length novel, The Race. Already the winner of a BSFA Award, for her novella Spin, and a Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for the translation of The Silver Wind, there is quite a lot of expectation about this novel. Opening in a near-future, post-catastrophe Britain it nests fiction within reality, reality within fiction with an assurance that will be familiar to any readers of her shorter fiction, yet which is still designed to challenge and exhilarate the reader. As one fine review puts it: ‘Readers with a kink for understatement, alienation, and locution will be at home’. Nina Allan has promised for some time to be one of the most interesting of the new generation of British writers, and with The Race she starts to fulfil that promise. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Lou Anders on Frostborn

In his ten years and counting tenure at Pyr, award-winning editor and art director Lou Anders has been on the other side of the desk from many fantastic fantasy novels and their authors, from James Enge’s Blood of Ambrose to Clay and Susan Griffith’s Vampire Empire and Allen Steele’s Apollo’s Outcasts, he’s made suggestions and fought for cuts and rewrites. As he writes here, he intended to (and in fact did) approach writing a novel with a willingness to revise to sell, but something happened along the way that turned the editing process into the hardest part of seeing his debut novel, Frostborn, published. Frostborn is the first book in Anders’s “Thrones and Bones” series for young readers, “a thoroughly enjoyable Viking-infused middle grade fantasy for boys and girls and their parents, with a winning combination of board gaming, frost giants, barrow mounds, and (of course!) dragons; fairly equal parts The Hobbit and (yes!) The Lion King with How to Train Your Dragon and The Black Cauldron flavoring atop a foundation of board games.” (Quoting myself, reviewing the audiobook elsewhere.) I’m already indebted to Lou for his kind words about Bull Spec early on, and for giving me the time for an in-depth, at-length interview in Bull Spec #4, and I hope you’re as interested here in what he has to say as I was.

Frostborn with Blurb

By Lou Anders:

When I wrote my first manuscript, the agent I was courting put me through an intense rewrite before he would agree to take me on and another one after he did. I told him I’d do anything to get it where it needed to be, and at one point we were debating having me rewrite the entire book to take it from third person to first person.

When I wrote my second manuscript, having already put it through several rewrites, I rewrote the entire thing to alter it from a young adult to a middle grade novel at the behest of an editor who thought she would be able to pick it up if I did.

My motto was “do what it takes to sell” and don’t be precious about anything. Read the rest of this entry »

The Exploding Spaceship Recommends Some Good UK Books for US Holiday-goers


This column features some good reads for all ages which are not currently available in the US.  Many US fans are traveling to the UK for conventions and holidays during the summer months so Your Humble Reviewers thought to provide some suggestions for book souvenirs and gifts.

For the middle grades, we highly recommend The Book of Beasts (paperback from Head of Zeus) by John and Carole Barrowman which is the third volume in their Hollow Earth trilogy. The first two books are available in the US, but volume three has not reached the American side of the Atlantic yet.  These books are very fast-paced fantasy adventures featuring twins who magically animate through their art. They are set on an island off the coast of Scotland (it doesn’t really exist but features of it come from real Scottish places).  The third volume sees the twins separated for most of the book, and so makes the characters change quite a bit and grow in unexpected ways. This is our favorite currently ongoing middle grades series.  The pacing and excitement make this a good choice for reluctant readers and since the twins are Emily and Matt, it is a good choice for either sex. Plotting is good enough that older teens and adults will enjoy it too. And yes, if you Doctor Who and Torchwood fans thought the name was familiar, that is the actor who plays Captain Jack Harkness and his older sister who write the series.

Book of Beasts UK cover 21570450

For all ages over about ten years, we recommend the War-Fighting Manuals (small hardbacks from Gollancz), an interesting series of little handbooks set in a fantasy world where Orcs, Elves and Dwarves are constantly at war and the humans are sort of bystanders. Den Patrick has written 3 very engrossing little books called, Elves War-Fighting Manual, Dwarves War-Fighting Manual, and Orcs War-Fighting Manual. The manuals are from the viewpoint of a human named Sebastian Venghaus, who has extensively researched the three cultures by living with them for an extended period of time.  Each book talks about the weapons, armor, and culture of the race plus you get an idea of how the human is treated when he is a guest. The setting is very interesting, the writing humorous but clean and the books written in such a way that you can open the book to almost any section an enjoy reading from there. As pencil and paper roleplaying gamers since the 1970s, we immediately thought these looked like excellent reference material to run a fantasy adventure campaign, as well as providing some much needed fun reading as an escape from the difficult reading in many of today’s fantasy volumes. Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Quick Updates: Charles Soule, Teen Author Summer Slam, Maggie McNeill, book clubs, the Baen Writers Bootcamp, and more

Friday, August 15, 2014: Like clockwork, once the newsletter goes out, events I missed come to mind or come pouring in. While I’ve updated the online newsletter with these “NEW-NEW” August events, here they are:

  • NEW-NEW: 15 (Friday) 8 pm — Michael D. Acosta’s film Devolve Babylon to show at Geeksboro Cinema in Greensboro. Recently selected into the Eastern North Carolina Film Festival, DVDs are available at:
  • NEW-NEW: 19 (Tuesday) 7 pm — The RTSFS book club discusses John Scalzi’s Redshirts at the B&N at Southpoint. “I’m sure we will be [also] discussing who won the Hugos this weekend. For Sept Half a King by Joe Abercrombie and for October Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey.”
  • NEW-NEW: 21 (Thursday) 7 pm — Durham County Southwest Library’s Sub-Genre-O-Rama Book Club discusses Plain Fear: Forsaken by Leanna Ellis, an “Amish-vampire-police procedural romance novel”. More info:
  • NEW-NEW: 29 (Friday) 10 pm — Durham author Mur Lafferty will be the guest for “Mr. Diplomat” at DSI Comedy Theater in Chapel Hill. Free. More info:

Still that’s only a slice of what’s going on this weekend and next week. Today at 5:30 pm, comics writer Charles Soule will hold a writing workshop at Ultimate Comics, ahead of a signing tomorrow from 11 am to 3 pm. “The writer of Letter 44, Superman Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, Red Lanterns , She Hulk, Inhuman, 27, as well as the upcoming Death of Wolverine mini series will be in the store signing! Mark your calendar now! Don’t miss your chance to meet one of the newest superstars in comics!”

Saturday, August 16, Ultimate Comics hosts writer Charles Soule (She-Hulk, Wonder Woman, Death of Wolverine).  Ladies of the Night: Short Stories by Maggie McNeill Read the rest of this entry »


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