All Cry Chaos


Five years ago, on a cross-country flight, I looked out the airplane window to the fields of America’s farmland.  The quilt-work patterns were beautiful, and expected; but what caught my eye was the irregular, crooked line at the borders between field and not-field: at outcroppings of rock, at the edge of forests, at stream and river basins. Passing over the mountains, along the ridges I saw these same crooked lines fanning to branching webs and sub-webs of more crooked lines. In effect, I saw lightning frozen in the landscape and wondered how this could be. And I wondered why the veins in my irritated right eye (which I’d put drops into that morning) should look precisely like these same crooked lines.

Lightning in the land?  In my eye?

I could not have been the first to find these similarities. After some research, I discovered a branch of mathematics called fractal geometry; and everywhere I turned I found the name Benoit Mandelbrot, the pioneer who not only observed these same correspondences but created a mathematics to describe them.

I knew I had a story—but what kind?  After experimenting, I settled on the thriller as my form. One character would be a mathematician who found recurring patterns everywhere he looked, not just in Nature but in objects of human creation.  Certain large questions followed, for instance: if there are patterns, is there a Pattern Maker?

My mathematician turned out to be James Fenster.  But because he had already plumbed the mysteries of fractal geometry, I realized that he could not be my main character.  I needed a protagonist who would discover the significance and wonder of fractals as the story unfolded so that the reader might have the pleasure of making these discoveries alongside him.

Additional research led me to sources on chaos theory where, once again, a single name surfaced as an early pioneer: Jules Henri Poincaré.  Before long, playing thewhat-if game, I gave this famous late-19th century mathematician a fictional great-grandson who would become the main character of All Cry Chaos (and of other titles planned for the series): Interpol Agent Henri Poincaré.

Something would happen to Fenster, I knew.  Poincaré would investigate.  The story was launched.