Book Review: A Pocketful of Stars, by Margaret Ball

There aren’t a lot of novels in which the protagonist and the other leading characters are mathematicians.  Here, we have not just a single novel, but a whole series–a total of six books projected.

Thalia Kostis is a young topology student.  Her Greek-immigrant parents think very little of her mathematical interests,  insisting that she quickly get married off and start producing grandchildren.  She wants a career in pure mathematics, yet has begun questioning her own ability to do pure-math research at the highest level–she worries that her abilities do not compare with those of her roommate Inga, a (tall, blonde, and beautiful) grad student who is also focused on topology. Also, Thalia has been ditched by her former boyfriend, partly because he feels that her mathematical investigations have become just too…disturbing.

What could be disturbing about pure math?  By chance, Thalia has discovered that by thinking about topological theorems in exactly the right way, she can influence the physical world.  Not a large influence, it appears–but she can move light objects a small distance without touching them.  It turns out that Inga has the same ability, as does Thalia’s best friend Ben. So, it’s not just topology anymore, but…potentially at least…applied topology, and a small research institute has been established at the University of Texas to see where the possibilities lead. The offices of Thalia, Ben, and Inga are separated from the rest of the building by a wall, and it’s a wall with no door…the group having determined that by proper topological thinking, they can pass through solid walls.  The only way for guests without the talent to get into this office area is to be escorted by a talented individual in very close proximity to them.

One day a man named Bradislav Lensky comes to meet Thalia and the other Institute researchers.  (We are never told exactly which agency, but we can be sure it isn’t the FBI given his frequent remarks about what idiots the employees of that agency mostly are.)  Lensky desires the mathematicians to use their talents to hack into a computer which he suspects is being used to plan a major terrorist attack, probably by bringing Middle Eastern terrorists across the Mexican border. He also informs them that all of their Institute’s funding is actually being supplied by his agency–the foundation which they had thought was their sponsor being actually merely a conduit.  So how can they say no?

There are numerous other characters.  One of these is a box turtle, encountered by Thalia and Ben at the park, with a band fastened tightly around his neck causing him great distress.  He is Niiquarquusu, a 3000-year-old Mesopotamian talking turtle with a rather grumpy personality–the grumpiness continues after he is liberated from his neckband, but he has abilities of his own which are quite useful when he can be persuaded to use them.  The key, it seems, is proper calibration of the amount of coffee that the turtle (dubbed “Mr M” for convenience)  is given..too little and he will be uncooperative, too much and he will behave in an unproductive and often embarrassing manner.  (Characters discover that before having sex, they need to check carefully to ensure that Mr M is not in the room—he tends to make snide comments, probably comparing the participants unfavorably with the way things were done in ancient Mesopotamia.)

A fun series with interesting plot twists and characters.  It is not for the politically correct, having already garnered one very upset review at Goodreads.

I’ve read the three books that have been published so far and am looking forward to the continuation.

A Pocketful of Stars, at Amazon

5 thoughts on “Book Review: A Pocketful of Stars, by Margaret Ball”

  1. The book itself was available for free on Kindle, and I was interested. So far, I am amused. The Goodreads reviewer referenced had a major cow about five pages in, obviously not able differentiate between the opinions of characters, and the opinions of the author.
    So he never got to the really amusing parts. His loss, I reckon.

  2. I loved the book. And it’s (so far) two sequels. Though I’m not sure why. It has a lot of things that I dislike about some fiction, but it’s just zany enough to make it amusing

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