Personalities? Perhaps it’s best to call them characters… Anyway, here’s who you’ll find in the short stories and novels.
Evan Olsson is a young PhD computer scientist at the Halsted Aeronautic Laboratory (HAL) in Pacific Palisades, California.
Evan grew up locally, attending Pacific Palisades High School. Attracted to science and math, he had good credentials as a nerd. However, he played the piano for school theatrical productions, giving him an active social life. He rode his Honda Super Cub dirt bike illegally on fire roads in the Malibu hills. He got his BS degree at the University of California Santa Barbara campus, following up with a PhD at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He skis, body surfs, dirt bikes, swims, exercises with weights and plays the piano.
Evan is slightly shy, bookish and non-confrontational. He loves science, the pursuit of the unknown, but he craves companionship, close friends who speak his language. He has constructed an artificial intelligence, “Al,” with whom he has conversations, although it is possible that Al is merely a figment of Evan’s imagination. Evan is loyal to his friends, and will take personal risks for them. He has an artistic and poetic side that struggles to express itself through the mouth of a technologist. Evan also craves companionship of another kind – a romance, and sex, with a woman who’s brighter and more self-assured than revisited dates from his high school years. His duty to friends sometimes comes into conflict with his desire for romance.
When Death By Probability begins in the near future, Evan is thirty years old. He is unexpectedly invited into a secret anti-crime lab, within the HAL building, where he finds a professional colleague and mentor in Willard, a senior scientist. Just as Evan is beginning to bond with Willard, Willard is suddenly found dead in a pool of blood, leaving Evan a mysterious message about a computer hacker plot against the US electrical power network. Evan’s decision to take on Willard’s quest leads him to tackle the mystery, and ultimately to flee for his life when he catches up with the principal perpetrator in the Malibu hills.
Lissa (Melissa) Larson:
Lissa Larson is a Southern California artist who also works as a designer of toys and animation characters.
Lissa grew up in Santa Monica, California. After attending Santa Monica High School, she attended Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, graduating with an MFA in Toy Design. She has a full-time job at Kidd Designs in Marina Del Rey, lives in the Marina Peninsula, and makes her own art in every spare hour. She swims, bicycles and practices yoga.
Lissa is forthright and warm, but very much in control of herself and of her emotions. She’s not much like her sister Holly. She’s postponing having children and for now remaining firmly independent. She’s ambitious – she wants to become a recognized artist, and she also wants her toy design work to be recognized as worthwhile art in its own regard. She hopes to find the right man, marry and have a family, but that must come later. Meanwhile, the word “love” does not seem to be in her vocabulary.
When Death By Probability begins, Lissa is twenty-five years old. Her sister, who works at Halsted Aeronautic Laboratory, introduces her to Evan Olsson. Lissa was burned by an earlier affair with Charlie, a married man from San Francisco, and strictly limits her availability to Evan. Nevertheless, within Lissa’s restrictions, Evan and Lissa have a torrid affair.
Exa (Alexandra) Zworykin:
Exa Zworykin is also a PhD computer scientist at Halsted Aeronautic Laboratory (HAL).
Exa grew up in Woodland Hills, California, in the San Fernando Valley. Her father had a long career at Hughes Aircraft Company as a satellite engineer, commuting to El Segundo. There had always been Zworykins working at Hughes, so high tech was practically in Exa’s genes. Exa went to the University of California at Berkeley for her BS, which helped stoke her anti-authoritarian attitude. She then took a PhD at California Institute of Technology and went to work at HAL. Exa is married, living in Thousand Oaks, with a son. She is a baseball fan and a dedicated classical violinist.
Exa is challenging and brash, with short rusty-brown hair. She bounces with energy and is Evan’s best friend since grad school. She cuts Evan no slack. If you asked Exa about her values, she would first act mystified, then she would pretend to make fun of you, then she would take pity on your frustration and tell you the truth: that she loves her family, she loves truth too, and she loves her friends as much as she hates stupid people.
At the time of Death By Probability, Exa is thirty-two. Evan has been working on a theory called Similarity, sort of a Physics treatment of the Supernatural. Even while criticizing it, Exa helps Evan develop the theory and serves as Evan’s sounding board.
Matt (Matthew) Emerson:
Matt Emerson is a research program manager working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Los Angeles, California.
Matt has Midwest roots, having been born in Michigan, though from high school on his family was living in San Diego, California. Men in Matt’s family usually went into the military service, and he followed that path. After getting a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California San Diego, he enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq, helping shuttle supplies to the American forces, and was sent to Air Force Institute of Technology, in Dayton, Ohio, for a Masters degree in Engineering and Management. After leaving the Air Force, he went to work at the FBI and became a project manager overseeing R&D projects for them in Southern California. Matt is married, a practicing Roman Catholic with three children, living in the Mar Vista district of Los Angeles. He is devoted to his family, and to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
Matt is conscientious about doing a good job in his FBI work. He tries to be strictly ethical, but sometimes has to cut corners to get his job done. Since Matt has degrees in engineering, everyone in his office assumes that he’s an Einstein in technology of all kinds. But he is overseeing work by people with PhDs in many different fields, work which he can barely understand. This tricky situation makes Matt particularly cautious; thus, it takes a long time to persuade him of anything that might make more trouble and work for him, and that might leave him open to criticism in his office.
Matt is thirty-five years old when Death By Probability begins. He is the FBI customer for a research project being worked by Willard Henderson, a project to track networks of drug dealers. When Willard dies suddenly, Matt needs a new scientist to take over the work, and settles on Evan Olsson.
Holly Morris is the Administrative Assistant for the Computer Science Department at HAL, in which Evan Olsson works.
Holly also attended Santa Monica High School. She blossomed in high school as a nonstop party girl, blonding her hair and embracing a “beach girl” lifestyle. New Years Eve her senior year, she took off for Las Vegas with the best looking guy in school and got married. He was an aspiring actor and never interested in family life, so Holly got an AA in Business from Santa Monica College, a divorce, and eventually a job at HAL and a second marriage to George, a HAL scientist. Lissa Larson is Holly’s sister. Holly’s favorite pastimes are yoga and gardening.
Holly instinctively likes men, and men – especially nerdy scientists – are unfailingly attracted to her. She is a conscientious assistant to the department manager, Dr. Ashley Tanaka, who if anything is amused at Holly’s gregariousness. Holly loves male attention, but tries to be strictly professional at HAL. What we know is that her warm flirtatiousness invites advances that she then has to fend off. She loves her husband George, but Holly and George lead somewhat independent lives.
In Death By Probability, Holly is thirty-three years old and attracts Evan more than she intends. While unwilling to hook up with Evan, she nonetheless develops an interest in his love life, eventually steering Evan toward an introduction to her sister.