S.L. Huang
Photo: Lucy Hewett

You majored in math at MIT. Does that mean you never need a calculator?

No, I’m good at the useless math, like comparing different types of infinities. My mom is a financial adviser. That’s the kind of math I’m really, really bad at. She’ll help me with my taxes while my eyes are glazing over.

How did you become a movie stuntwoman?

At the tail end of my time at MIT, I had some professors making noises at me about grad school, but I was kind of burned out. I had minored in theater arts, so I said, “What if I move out to Hollywood?” I’d been doing a lot of stage combat — sword fighting and martial arts — so I focused on stunt work. My very first job was on Battlestar Galactica. High falls are not my thing. I like being set on fire. They layer you with this fire-retardant gel, which is incredibly cold, and then they paint you up with accelerant and light you. If you feel any heat, you’re getting burned. Then through stunt work, I started doing weapons work. A lot of times, actors haven’t handled guns before, so if they’re supposed to look like an expert assassin, I would train them.

And then you left that to become a full-time writer?

Yeah, I got breast cancer, which sucked, because the movies lied — radiation does not actually give you superpowers. I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a kid, so it was a secondary cancer from that. It derailed my physicality a little bit, but now I’m back.

Cas Russell, the protagonist of your thriller Zero Sum Game and its follow-up, Null Set, which comes out in July, sounds kind of like you.

I hope that I kill a lot fewer people than she does. She’s this mercenary character in the Los Angeles underground, and her superpower is being able to do math really, really fast. For example, if she’s in the middle of a car chase, she’s seeing the cars as vectors and their interactions in terms of physics equations. I actually do a lot of the math in the books, but she can do it instantaneously. Wishing I could do that is where the book came from.

You’re a math whiz, a stuntwoman, a weapons expert, and an author. What other superpowers do you want?

I’ve always wanted to be able to fly. I do intend to get my pilot’s license at some point.