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  • Male author who did not typically write science fiction. Novel came out in the 1990's I think.
  • It seemed initially to be a story about a serial killer but it turns out the protagonist was merely misinterpreting a telepathic first contact attempt. He thought the voices in his head were telling him to kill but he was just a bit insane and could not handle first contact.
  • Two scientific/mathematical researchers featured. They discovered that you could run spaceship/warp drive on pure mathematics because the universe is ultimately just information and therefore by running the right sort of computer algorithm on your laptop you could theoretically warp space. If you could get hold of a military grade maths algorithm then your spaceship would be truly impressive.
  • The quality of star drive depended in part on the quality of mathematics used by your spaceship's engine.
  • There was a cat fascinated by static on a computer screen.

This was quite a disturbing, confusing, psychological thriller ala Donnie Darko, and the revelation that the insane killer was actually misinterpreting a first contact message was a great twist.

That's about what I can remember from twenty years ago. Anybody think they know this one?

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    That sounds somewhat like one of the subplots in Light by M. John Harrison, but the other subplots are quite different and it's so long since I've read it that I'm not sure whether all your details are in it. – Alan Jul 10 '14 at 13:42
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    @Alan Third - you should put that as a likely answer, the wiki summary at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_(novel) has something about a "physicist and serial killer" visited by a mysterious entity, and I found an excerpt at infinityplus.co.uk/stories/light.htm which seems to say that the ship's guiding intelligence is referred to as "The Mathematics". – Hypnosifl Jul 11 '14 at 4:52
  • @Hypnosifl Thanks for finding that excerpt. It certainly seems to bolster the argument. – Alan Jul 11 '14 at 13:33
8

It could be Light by M. John Harrison. It came out in 2002, but that's not too far from the 90s, and although Harrison has been writing SF since the '60s or '70s, I think his best known work is the Viriconium sequence which is a fantasy (although technically it's SF).

Light has three separate subplots, one of which involves a couple of scientists. One of them is a serial killer who is visited by the "Shrander", who has the head of a dead horse.

It has a scene where a cat sees a screen with fractals on it, which might be like static:

a cascade of fractals like a bird's wing, so tiny Kearney barely noticed it. But the female oriental, whose sensory-motor uptake times had been engineered by different biological considerations, was off his shoulder in an instant. She approached the screen, which was now blank, and batted it repeatedly with her front paws.

Another subplot involves the pilot of a spaceship who had been built into the ship. The ship's AI was called the Mathematics.

It's the first in a trilogy that loosely revolve around an area of space called the Kefahuchi Tract where physics breaks down.

It's been a long time since I read it so I may have some of the particulars wrong.

  • The description sounded interesting so I picked it up, haven't read through it yet but I did find a section about a character that had "a pair of oriental kittens", and in a scene where he's looking at a screen, there's this part which seems to match the last bullet point: "A cascade of fractals like a bird's wing, so tiny Kearney barely noticed it. But the female oriental, whose sensory-motor uptake times had been engineered by different biological considerations, was off his shoulder in an instant. She approached the screen, which was now blank, and batted it repeatedly with her front paws" – Hypnosifl Jul 11 '14 at 15:04
  • Thanks for that, I've added the quote to the answer. – Alan Jul 11 '14 at 15:38
2

A writer friend of mine says, "might be either Iain Banks, who wrote sci fi as Iain M. Banks - or Peter Hamilton, who's seen more as an action/suspense writer".

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    Can you add why you think this is the one? I.e. how does it address the criteria specified by the OP? – Möoz Jul 11 '14 at 4:11
  • No, it's neither of those -- I've read everything by both authors, and none of it fits at all. – Mike Scott Jul 11 '14 at 5:20

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