Archive - September 2015

ROOT OF UNITY is out today!
Mmmm … Delightful Nova Scotian Foreskins
Zero Sum Game is on sale! Also, some math for you about socks.
Oreo Cows in New Scotland
FIGHTING DEMONS is out today!

ROOT OF UNITY is out today!


“It’s a gloriously unapologetic action novel, full of explosions, and I enjoyed it tremendously.” — Liz Bourke,

“Huang has really stepped up her game in this book.” — James Davis Nicoll

Read it now: Amazon | Amazon UK | Apple | Kobo | Barnes & Noble

Back for book three . . .

Cas Russell has always used her superpowered mathematical skills to dodge snipers or take down enemies. Oh, yeah, and make as much money as possible on whatever unsavory gigs people will hire her for. But then one of her few friends asks a favor: help him track down a stolen math proof. One that, in the wrong hands, could crumble encryption protocols worldwide and utterly collapse global commerce.

Cas is immediately ducking car bombs and men with AKs — this is the type of math people are willing to kill for, and the U.S. government wants it as much as the bad guys do. But all that pales compared to what Cas learns from delving into the proof. Because the more she works on the case, the more she realizes something is very, very wrong . . . with her.

For the first time, Cas questions her own bizarre mathematical abilities. How far they reach. How they tie into the pieces of herself that are broken — or missing.

How the new proof might knit her brain back together . . . while making her more powerful than she’s ever imagined.

Desperate to fix her fractured self, Cas dives into the tangled layers of higher mathematics, frantic for numerical power that might not even be possible — and willing to do anything, betray anyone, to get it.


Mmmm … Delightful Nova Scotian Foreskins

While we were in Nova Scotia, we visited Jost Vineyards, the province’s biggest and oldest winery. The main building had walls of bottled wine surrounded by a steampunk décor that reminded me of Restoration Hardware. Ugh, more quaintness. How can the locals take so much quaintness? I would just die.

A staff woman approached and greeted me. A few words of mundane pleasantry ensued. My eyes hopped over to a sign that advertised the wine tasting. Her eyes followed mine. “Would you like to try our foreskins?” she asked.

“Huh?” I stilled. My face flushed, although I had forgotten to slap on sunscreen that day so I might’ve been somewhat burnt anyway. I scanned around to make sure I was still in a winery.

“Foreskins.” She smiled. In a completely innocent way.

I stared at her, still wondering if I heard wrong.

“Foreskins,” she said again, louder and her smile wider. 

I tried my best to muffle giggles from the juvenile boy within me. “Uh, I was actually hoping to try—”

“Our foreskins are really good.”

“I’m sure yours are,” I lied. To be honest, there was no way I’d know whether her foreskins were any good, but I had to be polite. After all, I was a foreigner in her country, her province, her store. “However, I already have—”

Her eyes narrowed. “You have some too?”

I nodded.

“Really?” she asked as if I lied.

“I think so.” 

She frowned a little. “I bet ours are better than what you have.”

That was quite presumptuous. I should’ve been offended, but I really wasn’t. Not a big deal. What makes foreskins better or worse, anyway? Some like them one way, others another. Many, regrettably, don’t like them at all. It’s all subjective. Still, I had to defend my honor, or whatever. I wondered if there was a way to prove myself without violating local laws. “Well,” I said, shrugging, “mine is probably not that bad.”

She waved a hand as if to say, whatever. “I insist. You must try ours before you go. You won’t regret it.” This woman sounded like someone who really knew her foreskins.

“I dunno.”

“Our foreskins are even more exquisite when paired with the local artisanal cheese.”

I wasn’t sure if “cheese” was code for something, but I was afraid to ask.

“The result is a long, smooth buildup to a deeply satisfying finish bursting with fruity flavors amidst a woody subtlety,” she moaned. “It’s sooo good.” Her eyes closed as if to savor a celestial moment.

“Wow. Fruity flavors, eh? I’ve never heard that before.”

“See,” she said smugly. “I told you ours are better than yours.”

“Oh, okay,” I said meekly.

In the end, I did sample some local foreskins. Who knew Nova Scotia would have such fine foreskins?

(The above exchange was very loosely based on what actually happened.)

foreskins - IMG_6925


Zero Sum Game is on sale! Also, some math for you about socks.

In celebration of the release of Root of Unity (less than a week away, w00t!), today marks the first day of a 99-cent sale of the ebook for Zero Sum Game!

Amazon * Amazon UK * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * Apple

In honor of this sale and so I’m just not Promoty McPromotion, I’m going to tell you about the title of the series.

Russell’s Attic may not be the best title for a book series about violent superpowered mathematicians — it doesn’t quite speak to the superhero aspect, or suggest adrenaline-pumping thrillers, or . . . anything else a title is supposed to do.  But it was too good to pass up.

You see, Russell’s attic is an actual thing. I don’t mean a physical thing, but an actual mathematical metaphor.

Bertrand Russell is a famous mathematician and set theorist (yes, I named my main character after him, trufax!). He proposed the following thought experiment:

Say you have an attic filled with countably infinite pairs of shoes and countably infinite pairs of socks.  (“Countably infinite” essentially means there’s a way to write them all down in a list — the list can be infinite; we just have to be sure it contains all the elements.  For example, we are confident the list 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… contains all the natural numbers, even though it’s infinite. Similarly, we are confident the list 2, 4, 6, 8… contains all the even natural numbers, even though it’s infinite. So these are both countably infinite sets. The real numbers — think all possible decimals — are uncountably infinite, because there’s no way to list them all, even in an infinite list.)

So in Russell’s attic, we have countably infinite pairs of shoes and countably infinite pairs of socks. The shoes in a pair can be differentiated from each other, left versus right. The socks in a pair are identical.

We know there are countably infinite pairs of both, and that each pair has two elements. The question: can we prove there are countably many shoes (not pairs of shoes) and countably many socks (not pairs of socks)?

The shoes are easy! We know there are countably many pairs, so there must exist a list like this:

{ Shoe Pair 1, Shoe Pair 2, Shoe Pair 3, Shoe Pair 4, Shoe Pair 5 … }

To make our list of all the shoes, we just do this:

{ Left shoe from Pair 1, right shoe from Pair 1, left shoe from Pair 2, right shoe from Pair 2, left shoe from Pair 3 … }

Since we’ve already said the first list exists, the second must as well, and we have countably many shoes. Presto.

Now let’s try to prove there are countably many socks.  If we know there’s a way to list the pairs of socks, is there a way to list the individual socks like we did for the shoes?


It turns out it is impossible to prove there are countably many socks unless you use the Axiom of Choice. Even though we can easily prove countably many pairs of shoes means countably many shoes in the attic, and we can do it without the choice axiom, we can’t do the same when we start with countably many pairs of socks.


That punchline may be a little anticlimactic if you don’t know what the Axiom of Choice is.  So what is it?  Basically, the Axiom of Choice says that if you have a collection of sets of things, it is possible to grab one thing out of each of the sets.

Sounds obvious, right?  It did to mathematicians, too, who for a long time simply assumed this was true for any collection of sets because of course you can do that. Then a guy named Zermelo came along and showed that assuming this super obvious thing led to a result that blew mathematicians’ minds.

The mind-blowing result he proved is called the well-ordering theorem, and from what I’m told it caused a minor apocalypse in the mathematical world, because it was so obviously wrong how could it possibly be true. So Zermelo went back through his proof and showed that the only assumption he’d made was that you could pick one thing out of each set of things, which of course everyone accepted as obviously true. But he’d used this Super Obviously True thing to prove something everyone knew was Obviously Impossible.

Thanks to Zermelo, we now know the obvious thing and the impossible thing are actually the same thing.

“The Axiom of Choice is obviously true, the well-ordering theorem is obviously false, and who can tell about Zorn’s Lemma?” — Jerry Bona

(the three are equivalent)


So the formerly-super-obviously-true thing became a formal axiom instead, called the Axiom of Choice. And without it, you can’t prove there are countably infinite socks in Russell’s attic.

As for my book series title, since “attic” can also imply someone’s mind or give a metaphor for their general state of being, I thought Russell’s Attic was perfect!

Interestingly, I just did a search for “russell’s attic” (without the quotes), and the first result is the definition of the mathematical thing… and every other first-page result is now this series.

Oops. Sorry, math world!

Oreo Cows in New Scotland

‘Tis hard to believe, but it’s been over two (long) months on the road.

We just left Nova Scotia, a Canadian province whose name means New Scotland. Before we left Los Angeles, we didn’t plan on going to Canada, much less Nova Scotia, which is so far away from LA it might as well be the old Scotland. In fact, Nova Scotia is farther away from LA than any contiguous USA location. It’s more northeast than Maine, which is already super far.

The most common comment we’ve been getting from strangers is: “You’re a long way from home.” Yes, we are. And they’re even more shocked that we drove. I had no idea people looked at car license plates so much.

How did we end up so far? When we got to Lake Superior, we wanted to continue east. The two choices were to go via the north shore (Canada) or the south shore (USA). Montreal and Quebec City seemed like nice places to see so we went with the Canadian route. After those cities, Nova Scotia appeared merely a bit further east, so we rolled on. Newfoundland tempted us, but we shut down that idea before it wandered too far. Plus it would’ve required a long ferry ride. It’s easy to keep going forever if you keep on thinking, Oh, it’s just a little further.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we visited Nova Scotia. It is the most beautiful region we’ve seen thus far. Here’s a photo of a pasture we passed by.

bulls charge

Yup. Nova Scotian humor. Hahaha.

You can’t see the cows that well in the photo, but they have broad swathes of white in the middle of their bodies. At first I thought they was shaved or painted, but later I found out they’re actually Galloway cows, a breed originally from Scotland. Sometimes they’re called Oreo cows, as in the cookie. Cute. Friggin’ Nova Scotia, even their cows are quaint.

Upcoming post … slurpin’ on delightful Nova Scotian foreskins.

FIGHTING DEMONS is out today!

Read “Fighting Demons,” the sequel to “Hunting Monsters,” today at The Book Smugglers!


What is this story about?  It’s about parents and children, culture and identity, individuality and family.  It’s about the daughter of Beauty and Red Riding Hood meeting the son of Bai Suzhen and Xu Xian from the famous Chinese tale “Legend of the White Snake.”

If you want to read about how awful and hard it was to write about my own cultural heritage for this story, by the way, I wrote about it here:

Doubts plagued me:

How do I write for primarily non-Chinese readers without flattening all of Chinese culture into a shallow, singular narrative?

What if I write something that only reinforces stereotypes, despite my best efforts?

Because I’m mixed, because I’m diaspora, do I even have the right?

Looking back, however… part of what made it so hard is also what makes me most proud of it.

But I’ll let that essay stand on its own.  Instead I’ll talk for a minute here about a bit of other background — setting!

“Fighting Demons” takes place primarily near a fairy tale version of Hangzhou, China.  Fun fact: I lived in Hangzhou briefly one summer, teaching a computer science class to electrical engineering graduate students at Zhejiang University.  The Thunder Peak Pagoda referenced in the story is a real place, and one I have been to!  I drew on all my sense memory writing this story: the humidity that fills you up and wraps you close and heavy like a blanket; the vast and scenic West Lake, its shallows forested with lotus; the pagoda spiking up above us as we walked on the lake’s shores.

The real Hangzhou is very different from Fairy Tale Hangzhou, of course.  There are no sea serpents, nor magic defenses in the pagoda, nor snake demons fighting battles across the lake.  The West Lake retains its beauty while the present-day city is as modern and vibrant as any other.  Zhejiang University itself is ranked sixth in all of China.  My students were all bilingual and spoke excellent English (well, some of the main characters in “Fighting Demons” do, too), and were sharp, smart, and politically astute about the modern world, most far more than I was.  (“Don’t bring up Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, or Tibet,” they warned us before we went to China.  They didn’t tell us what to do if our students asked us our opinions on exactly those topics, seriously and pointedly.)

But even though my fairy tale Hangzhou differs from the real, modern one, I hope I’ve given it the same depth and reality I gave to fairy tale Europe in “Hunting Monsters.”  After all, if I’ve only learned one thing from all the places I’ve been, it’s that people are people no matter where they live, and families are families.  Even — especially! — families made up of immortal snake demons who fight obsessive monks to rescue each other with magic.

Enjoy the story!

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