Jan 19th, 2018, The Equationist by J.D. Moyer, Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018

Thus far, my favorite story in this issue. The Equationist is about a boy who perceives people as complex mathematical equations, that, if drawn on a graph would be a particular shape. For instance, his brother constantly makes the wrong decisions and gets punished, and never learns from his mistakes. In this way, he is a circular equation. Other people take other mathematical equations as well, and once the protagonist, Niall, can recognize the equation they function on he’s able to manipulate them–though he is not a nefarious person and he always has those peoples interests in mind as well as his own.

What this story reminds me of, thematically, is the theory of the nam shub, which I was introduced through the novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. A nam shub is a pattern of speech, a poem, or chant that changes the way people think and act. It is an ancient Sumerian concept that those who possess a nam shub, the knowledge, or maybe it’s a skill, can influence others to do what they want. While it can be looked at with a mystic eye, there are certain people throughout history who possessed powerful skills in persuasion and influence. Adolf Hitler is an obvious nam shub user, as is Mao Zedong, Donald Trump, and Barak Obama. Of course, this idea isn’t exclusive to state leaders. One might argue that musicians like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Curt Cobain, all possessed skills or knowledge that could be connected to the hypothesis of the nam shub. And in The Equationis, so does the protagonist, Niall.

Structurally, this piece is a wonder. Or that is, it does something I’ve tried to do on multiple occasions without success–which is, tell the story of a person’s life in about 15 pages. This story takes Niall from about 5 years old all the way up past his 75th birthday, all while making the time jumps feel not only natural but part of the equation of his life. Just as he is examining other people’s  equations, he is unable to understand his own, and the jumps show this, as each scene picks up years later, but with Niall in the same place, wishing his understood himself and could progress.

A really imaginative piece with depth and an admirable structure. (A)


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