In the midst of researching a minor Batman villain named The Actuary—please, don’t ask why—we came across a rather curious contest held by the Society of Actuaries. In the spirit of stoking its members’ right brains, the Society annually puts out the call for fictional short stories that evoke the essence of actuarial science. This year’s winner, Chris Fievoli’s “No Country for Young Men,” can be read in its entirety here (PDF). A taste of what the Faulkner of actuaries produced en route to the $200 top prize:
When, after about an hour’s effort, he was able to get his first mortality ratios, it was apparent that he had made some sort of error. The ratios seemed to be off by a factor of ten or so. Assuming he simply misplaced a decimal, Dorian carefully went through his calculations in search of his mistake. When he failed to find it, a feeling of concern began to come over him. Mortality rates ten, eleven, twelve times expected simply didn’t make sense. Did he read the experience data correctly? A check of that appeared to confirm that he did.
Perhaps the data itself was faulty. He got a hold of his contact in the IT area, a nonagenarian by the name of Justin who, despite repeatedly cursing the systems he had to manage, proved to be a reliable resource. Together, they made the requisite checks, and determined no problems from that end either. They even opened a few claims files and verified that the death notices were in fact valid, and duly documented.
Eat your heart out, Haruki Murakami.