Friday, March 11, 2011

9th Annual Actuarial Speculative Fiction Overview

If you haven't had a chance yet, please check out the stories in the 9th Annual Actuarial Speculative Fiction contest.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, my story is among the 23 submissions.  This is a collection of speculative fiction written by actuaries on story lines developed around some kind of actuarial subject.  Sound exciting?  Some of these stories actually are quite entertaining and can be enjoyed by the non-actuarial crowd.

Also, as I mentioned in the earlier post, anyone can vote for the best submission for the "Reader's Choice" award.  A judge will separately choose awards for "best overall story", "second best overall story", "most unique use of technology in a story", "best story emphasizing Futurism methods", and "most creative actuarial career of the future."  (At least I think those are still the categories.)

Having read all of the stories, I will now make my own picks.  (Dr. Mielke, if you're reading this, you better stop reading this post lest I corrupt your decisions.  < Yeah, right! >)

If you're short on time and would like to read just a few stories before you vote (go to the website above and email Gary with your vote), you can use the following synopses to help you choose which ones to read.

First, let me get my story out of the way.  Since I wrote it, I have no idea how it stacks against the other stories.  Once I introduce it, I will cast it aside, and then make my picks.

My story, Actuarial Weeding, is about an actuary who's hired to do work for a secret government facility.  He's kept in the dark until he discovers what his math is being used for.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, I will pick my favorite three of the remaining 22 submissions.  This is of course reflective of my personal taste.  I will be voting for one of these three.  If you'd like to vote in this contest and don't have time to read all 23, I would suggest that you start with these three (after reading mine, of course).

Jerry Levy, Hen House Number Theory: Patsy Ghora is an "üma" stuck on the moon.  She is an actuary who happens to be immune to a deadly virus.  While they're performing experiments on her, she is also trying to use mathematical patterns to help find a cure.  To ease her stress, she writes a story ...

Ben Herrington, The Curious Story of Mr. James Phillimore: Sherlock Holmes works with an actuary to investigate a missing person's case.  It's well written in the 19th century style of writing, complete with British spellings (though he accidentally uses the American spelling every now and then).  I love the random literary references peppered through the story.

Nathanial Smith, Everything's Relative: A stressed out actuary is distraught after a close friend's murder.  When he comes across a mysterious computer file, everything changes.

There were a lot of good entries this year, as always.  These four stories were close runners-up.  You ought to read them as well before you vote.

Ben Marshall, Awakenings: Mr. Katameros wakes up in a strange hospital room and he can't remember who he is.  He is about to learn that he was a client of a different kind of insurance company.  This one was well written, but it's the longest one of the bunch (it goes 20% over the 6000-word limit).

Chris Fievoli, Another Green World: Eugene Hartz is an actuary who lives in a world that is so green, that it's against the law to use any fossil fuel or batteries of any kind.  This means that Eugene and his team must do all their actuarial work by hand.  Wait until you see what happens when he gets his hands on some "old" technology!

Karen B. Baker, Second Chances: John's daughter is in really bad shape.  He is presented an option where the daughter can be placed into a prosthetic body.  To pay for the procedure (this is where actuarialism comes in), he'll have to pay a monthly fee until she turns a certain age, then she'll pay for the rest of her functional life - providing an incentive for the doctors to keep her alive as long as possible.  What will John choose?

Steve Mathys, The What Ifs: Annia is getting ready for Draft Day.  She is the best Farstrider among all the Prospectives.  However, she's in for a rude awakening as actuarial modeling is taken to an extreme.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story except for the typos.  In particular, there's an annoying typo (or missing words) in the last paragraph, which makes it hard for me to understand how the story ends.  I'd love to see an edited version.  (Just to be fair, most of these stories have typos, but since I liked this story so much, I'd just think it would be worth fixing them.)

These following stories were also good.  You may find that you like some of these better than I did.

Sophia Dao, Bored to Death: The actuarial department is very tired.  One is so tired that he dies.  It turns into a murder mystery with a twist.

David Johnson, Haiku Story: This is a funny piece of flash fiction written in haiku snippets.  I just hate haikus.  You don't know how much I do.  I really hate them.

Tony Batory, JOANAI: In this sequel to Joe A from two years ago, Joe A is retired from actuarial work.  The year is 9996 and he's trying to get everyone to understand how disastrous the Y10K bug will be, but something is erasing pertinent information, and someone keeps drugging him.  What's going on?

Carol Marler, Measurement of Mortality: A nice short poem comparing actuaries with the three Greek Fates.

James A. Kenney, Omega: An actuary tells his story about how he stumbled on an ancient secret and became the richest man in the world.

Carol Marler, PHUture Vision: An actuary, a physicist, and a risk analyst get together to put together a black box that can see into the future.  Only, it's a little difficult to interpret the outputs from the box.

Christopher Connor, What's in a Rose?: A funny story about robots and an actuary and flowers.

There were quite a few submissions whose purpose seems to be demonstrating an innovative actuarial concept.  These can be fun to read if you happen to be an actuary.  I prefer "speculative fiction" to have a more human element; to have some kind of plot and characters that I care about.  The following stories somewhat successfully merge together innovative math and the human element.  I figure these stories are in the running for the three technological awards.

Jack Farhenbach, The Bus Ride: This paper analyzes what happens after a nuclear terrorist attack - how the economy and insurance in general is affected.  The human element comes from this being written in first person by a chief actuary who is trying his best to contribute positively to the world around him.  I call it a "paper," because that's how it's presented.  While very interesting, be prepared for plenty of passive voice.

Gregory A. Dreher, The Guild: What will actuaries be like in the future when we can all hook up our brains to a Network of everything information?  Jacob is a candidate who's going through the process of becoming a Fellow.  This very innovative story explores this strange new world and also delivers a satisfying ending.

Marilyn Dunstan, The Jungle: The world is in dire straits.  In an effort to save the world, Ben, an actuary, submits himself to a strange trip to a virtual world. 

A. Haeworth Robertson, Two Improbable Suggestions: Alex Morgan is an actuary who discovers an innovative new product to better calculate competitive cash surrender values on a life insurance policy.  Robertson mixes in the human element rather well.

The rest of these stories are more technical and less fiction, but still fun to read if you're an actuary.

Dick Joss, Let's Test the Airplane before Selling Tickets: This paper explores the drawbacks of relying on arithmetic means in measuring investment growth.

Rodge, A Matter of Degrees: A very technical view of the future that's way above my head.  It looks to be interesting and enjoyable for a small niche of people, though.

Nick Jacobi, Price it Like a Life Product: Another paper above my head.  David G Pilgrim is the Actuarianator who saves the day.  This is a funny paper submitting a real innovative idea, but it appears that the Actuarianator only exists to present the idea and get his kudos.

Jerry Tuttle, Risk Managing an Investment Portfolio: The writer (an unnamed actuary) describes an innovative investment scheme.  Perhaps I should give it a try!

There you have it.  Go knock yourself out.  Get actuarially read-up, and cast your vote.  You'll be glad you did!

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