Wednesday, November 4, 2020

"Critical Point"

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), which begins with Zero Sum Game, followed by Null Set.

Huang applied the Page 69 Test to Critical Point, the latest Cas Russell novel, and reported the following:
The sixty-ninth page of Critical Point is the end of a chapter:
loud with our breathing and pounding feet and the buzz of the drones above us. My mind whizzed through the other probabilities and urgencies. Setting aside for a moment just how much Willow Grace knew that she hadn’t shared yet, the binary explosive meant—what? I didn’t know much about them beyond the basics: two chemicals that were harmless when separate, but would detonate with great prejudice once they met. So the initial powder, the one already caking us, would be inert by itself. Another wave of drones would have to come and spray their payload around all at once . . . and then the entire place would go up like another Independence Day display. Without knowing what the chemical compositions were, I couldn’t make a reliable estimation of destructive power, but I was guessing big and flamey.

Assume the same type of drones for the second payload, though, and we’d make it past the fence and out before anything could go off. We were already probably far enough away from the buildings, which was where the drones were concentrating themselves— “There’s a person!” gasped Pilar, pointing.

I swiveled, every nerve ending instantly wiring with adrenaline.

But it wasn’t the man from the lawn. Instead, a much smaller, black-clad silhouette was bobbing in and out of the screen of cypress trees a few hundred yards down from us.

A silhouette I recognized. And this time not from my nightmares.

Oh, fuck.

I grabbed the other women to stop them. “Keep an eye on her,” I commanded Pilar, pointing at Willow Grace. I wasn’t sure whether I meant Pilar should protect her or keep her under guard, but Willow Grace was right about one thing—any more answers on that had to wait.

“Now run,” I said.

They took off into the night, and I sprinted in the opposite direction, back across the lawn toward where Arthur’s daughter was sneaking into the wellness center.
Annnnnnnd right as they’re running from the explosion, my main character sees the teenaged daughter of one of her friends sneaking into the place that’s about to blow up.

Believe it or not, this is a fabulous encapsulation of the entire book. Explosions? Check! The novel is chock full of explosions cover to cover, and on page 69 we’re right at the point of running from one. Family? Check! Even though it’s an action thriller, I think of Critical Point as being all about family, and right here we’re about to see the exact dynamics of the main character with the friends she regards as family ... and, in this case, their precocious sixteen-year-old daughter.

I suppose one thing this page doesn’t have much of is math, and considering my antiheroine’s superpowers are the ability to do math really, really fast—and murder people with it—that might be a drawback to page 69 being quite representative. On the other hand, I think one thing that’s very normal in my work is to have four women naturally appear as part of an action scene together with no men around at that moment, and we do see that here. I tend to have enough women in my work for me to get plenty of scenes where I randomly have mostly or all women driving the plot; it never feels contrived to me, as it makes sense when my casts have that many diverse, skilled women in them!

So yeah, if this page gets across page-turning action and badass women, and also hints at the upcoming family and character feels, I think it’s nailing what the book’s about. Plus math that can kill you.
Visit S. L. Huang's website.

The Page 69 Test: Zero Sum Game.

The Page 69 Test: Null Set.

--Marshal Zeringue