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Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions – “What Have We Done?” Inauguration Day Sale


Campaign 2100 Front FinalCampaign 2100: Game of Scorpions is on sale! But only for a few days. From my publisher (World Weaver Press), “From January 17 to January 24, 2017, we’re running a Kindle Countdown deal for the ebook version of CAMPAIGN 2100: GAME OF SCORPIONS: get it for 99¢ until January 20th, or $2.99 until January 24th.

They’re calling it the “What Have We Done?” Inauguration Day Sale. What’s the connection? The opening line to the novel is, “What have I done?”, the thoughts of regretful campaign director Toby as the guy he put into office is sworn into office as president of Earth (in the year 2100). Four years later he’ll be running for president against the guy he put in office, with an “impossible” third-party moderate challenge! (Did I mention that the world has adopted the American two-party electoral system?)

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Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions Reviewed in Mensa!


Campaign 2100 Front FinalCampaign 2100: Game of Scorpions just got a nice review in the January, 2017 issue of the Mensa Bulletin! From the column “Page Turners,” by Caroline McCullagh (which includes a picture of the cover), page 23:

If you’re not burned out on politics, another interesting novel is Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions by Larry Hodges. It’s a good read. The book is about the campaign for president of the United States of Earth in the year 2100. It starts out as you might expect, a well-written novel about the twists and turns in a political contest as an erstwhile campaign manager, Toby Platt, decides to make a third-party challenge to the Liberal and Conservative parties. It takes a turn into something completely different with the arrival of a space ship piloted by a single female astronaut named Twenty-two, who claims to be an ambassador from the Galactic Union.

Toby’s main opponent is his previous employer, the sitting president, Corbin DuBois, who is running for re-election. DuBois’s campaign is now being run by Toby’s daughter, Lara, who knows all Toby’s tricks and then some. Toby’s best friend and now campaign manager is Bruce Sims, a ping-pong champion, which is a nice segue into the fact that the author, Larry Hodges, has written a number of other books, most of them about table tennis technique. We sure have a lot of interesting people in Mensa.

It’s also been reviewed in the SF Crow’s Nest and in Abyss & Apex:

SF Crow’s Nest: “There are so many good things in this novel that I’m bursting to share them but that would spoil it for the first time reader.” “Anyway, it’s a marvellous book. Easy reading, fast-paced, lots of surprise plot twists, likeable heroes, a loveable alien and a gripping climax that takes the election right to the wire. Highly recommended.”

Abyss & Apex: “Larry Hodges is a master of irony and slips in enough humor that it’s a great ride.”

It’s also been reviewed ten times at – seven 5-star and three 4-star. It has a perfect 5.0 rating on Goodreads (three ratings). And while I’m at it, here are two blurbs!

“Larry Hodges is an insightful political commentator and a kick-ass science-fiction writer. A dynamite novel full of twists and turns; this futuristic House of Cards is both entertaining and thought-provoking.”
Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo  and Nebula Award-winning author of Quantum Night

“A tense, taut political thriller that rings much truer than you would suspect, given that it won’t be happening for another eight decades.”
Mike Resnick, 5-time Hugo winner, record 37-time nominee, and editor of Galaxy’s Edge

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Sail to Success Science Fiction Writing Workshop Cruise


Wow. That’s the best way I can describe my experiences at the “Sail to Success” science fiction writing workshop cruise in the Bahamas, Dec. 5-9, 2016, on the Norwegian Sky. I’ve never been on a cruise before, so my comments on that are from a newbie. However, I’ve been to numerous writing workshops, and this reached the rarified airs of the best of them. The cruise was put together by Arc Manor, an award-winning publisher.

What made it so great? The staff! But I’ll let you judge for yourself. The Instructors were (alphabetically):

Dan Dandridge, a best-selling self-publisher, also ran two sessions, though he was officially one of the students. Setting up everything and making sure all ran smoothly were Arc Manor’s Shahid Mahmood and Lezli Robyn. Here were the actual sessions, each roughly one hour, except for the two 3-hour critique sessions. They started each day at 2PM, and typically went to about 10PM.

  1. Publishing Business 101 (Eric Flint, Eleanor Wood)
  2. The Importance of Character Building (Nancy Kress, Jack Skillingstead)
  3. Query Letters and Contracts (Eric Flint, Eleanor Wood)
  4. Developing Property Rights (Jim Minz, Eleanor Wood)
  5. Working with Editors/Publishers/Agents (Jim Minz, Mike Resnick, Eleanor Wood)
  6. Doing It Yourself: Self-Publishing Your Book (Dan Dandridge)
  7. Working with Magazines and Anthologies (Eric Flint, Mike Resnick)
  8. Getting Past the Magazine Slush Reader (Mike Resnick)
  9. Using Modern Tools to Sell Your Own Book (Dan Dandridge)
  10. The Professional Approach to Writing (Eric Flint, Nancy Kress, Jack Skillingstead)
  11. The 1623 Universe: Intro and How to Write for It (Eric Flint)
  12. Jim Minz Manuscript Critique (3 hours)
  13. Tips to Increase Productivity (Mike Resnick, Jack Skillingstead)
  14. Nancy Kress Manuscript Critique (3 hours)
  15. Sharpening Your Prose: An Exercise (Jack Skillingstead)
  16. What Type of Writer Do You Want to Be? (Mike Resnick, Jack Skillingstead)

The cruise started in Miami. Each night, starting about 5PM, they’d leave for the next destination at 22 knots per hour (that’s about 25mph for us landlubbers), and we’d be there by the time we woke up the next morning. We left Miami on Monday night, arriving at Freeport Tuesday morning. On Wednesday we were at Nassau, the capital and largest city of the Bahamas. On Thursday it was Great Stirrup Cay, a small island owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, which they turned into a private beach attraction for their passengers

My daily schedule was simple. Get up around 7AM, eat breakfast, visit hot tub, write for one hour, and then excursions to the local Bahamas. I bought about $50 in souvenirs at Freeport, and then restrained myself the rest of the way. At Great Stirrup Cay I spent an hour out in the ocean, with fish swimming about my feet, and then pigged out on the buffet the Norwegian Sky cooks had set up next to the beach. Like all meals on board (with a few exceptions for luxury items), it was included in the cost of the cruise, and so (at that point) free. The food was great, with lots of variety. I mostly had French toast for breakfast, large salads for lunch, and various dishes for dinner.

The classes started at 2PM, and generally went to about 10PM, with a two-hour break for dinner. Then it was off for the Deck 11 gabfests! (More on that below.) There was a TV in my room, but I never turned it on. I did, however, spend some time in the small balcony off my room that overlooked the ocean, where I’d read or go over my work or that of other students.

The two critique sessions were great as Jim Minz and Nancy Kress are incredible at critiquing – analyzing the story, finding its strengths and weaknesses, and finding solutions to problems found. Plus lots of line editing. We went around the table, with the others in the class giving their input on each story while the author took notes. I’ve already done my rewrites based on their critiques, and will be submitting soon.

Throughout the sessions, and often in informal ones outside, numerous pearls of wisdom were dropped on us, like manna in the Bahamas. But the workshop was much, much more.

  • Private Meetings. One of the features of the workshop was two 30-minute one-on-one sessions with two of the instructors. I got to meet with Super Agent Eleanor Wood and multi-Nebula winner and writing guru Nancy Kress. I went into each meeting with specific questions and some trepidation, and came out smiling, with answers not only to my questions, but to questions I didn’t even know to ask. Their knowledge and professionalism went far beyond expectations. Suffice to say that much of my future, both near- and long-term, are now mapped out, and I now know the exact date of my first Hugo.
  • Late-Night Bull Sessions. Most nights, after classes ended, some of us headed to the 11th deck, where there was a huge outside area with tables and a late-night restaurant. Lots of great stories from Mike and Carol Resnick! We’d talk under a starry sky, with ocean on one side, the late-night cafeteria on the other. (There was also a 12th deck, but it only covered half the ship.) I’d go to bed around 1AM, while Mike, who is a late-night owl writer, would go to work, reading from the slush pile and writing all night. Is it any wonder he has eight books coming out in 2016 (!!!), a number of short stories, while also editing Galaxy’s Edge? (He co-wrote one novel with Lezli and I, “When Parallel Lines Meet,” coming summer of 2016.)
  • Writing Habits. During the “The Professional Approach to Writing” session, Nancy Kress and Eric Flint described their writing habits. Nancy is one of those who writes to find out what she’s going to write about, i.e. doesn’t plan much – just figures it out as she writes, then does extensive rewrites. Eric is more of a planner, and often has trouble getting started. I listened to him describe his various routines to get started, and how he goes about planning his novels, with the mesmerizing realization that it was almost identical to mine. We also explored writing in a number of exercises in the “Sharpening Your Prose: An Exercise” with Jack Skillingstead.
  • Sold a Story. On the first day Mike Resnick told me he’d accepted a new story from me for Galaxy’s Edge. The story, “Death, the Devil, and the President’s Ghost,” was a humorous satire on politics. It was my 8th sale to Galaxy’s Edge, 15th “pro” sale, and 81st altogether. I tried not to jump up and down like the waves surrounding us, but probably failed. Mike has rapidly become one of my favorite authors. Regarding Mike…
  • Mike’s Books. He’s published 86 books in the SF field (novels, short story collections, and how-to books), of which I’ve read 15. I’ve made it my mission to read the other 71 over the next two years, while still reading other novels – alternating between Mike’s and others, such as Probability Moon by Nancy Kress, the first book of a trilogy I’m currently reading. But since Mike keeps putting novels out, it’s going to be hard to catch up. Next up by Mike is Ivory: A Legend of Past and Future, a Nebula nominee, which covers 6000 years of history (past and future) of the tusk of an elephant.
  • Ping-Pong Tournament. On Tuesday they held a cruise ping-pong tournament. Since in the outside world I’m a top player and coach in this Olympic sport, I won rather easily. Not to brag, but in four matches, games to 11, nobody scored more than 2 points – and twice I gave away points at 10-0.
  • Ship Features. The ship had three swimming pools, four hot tubs, basketball and volleyball courts, golf driving nets, two ping-pong tables, jogging track, fitness center and spa, about a dozen restaurants, numerous gift shops, a gambling casino, theater (with comedy, magic, and other shows), the Mark Twain Library (lots of books, not just Twain’s), a daily ship-related crossword (which I did over breakfast each morning), an art show and gallery, and lots more.
  • Norwegian Sky vs. the Titanic. Both ships are huge – but Norwegian Sky is bigger. While Titanic was slightly longer (882 feet to Sky’s 848), Sky is wider (123 feet to Titanic’s 92), heavier (77,000 tons to Titanic’s 46,000), and has more decks (12 to Titanic’s 9). Sorry, Titanic, you are now Petitenic. (They had similar crew sizes, 899 for Sky, 892 for Titanic, while Titanic had a passenger capacity of 2435 – lots of cramped quarters for the 1006 in third class – to Sky’s 2004. Stop and think about that – the Sky had roughly a crew member for every two passengers!)
  • The View. Yes, it was incredible. Imagine a 12-floor building. Now imagine it’s nearly the length of three football fields, and 123 feet wide. Now imagine it’s surrounding by bluish water as far as the eye can see, with waves crashing into the ship. Throw in a few dozen seagulls, a sky full of stars you never see within one hundred miles of a city, and you have the view that would kill.

I, and I’m sure everyone else involved, would like to thank the entire staff for the great job they did, and Arc Manor’s Shahid and Lezli for the great job they did in setting this up, as well as for all the free “goodies” they gave out – Galaxy’s Edge carry bags, copies of Galaxy’s Edge, a copy of Locus, fancy magnetic metal nametags, and of course the small rubber ducky that only Sail to Success grads will ever truly understand.

[NOTE – a photo album should be going up soon. When it does, I’ll link to it.]

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Lunacon2016-autograph-session-smI’ll be at the Capclave Science Fiction Convention on Friday and Saturday. I’m on three panels, two author signings, a reading, plus I’m one of the nine finalists for the Washington SF Association’s annual Small Press Award for Short Fiction. As you can see, I’m going to have a very busy Saturday. Hope to see all of you there! (Picture on right is from my author signing in March at the Lunacon SF Convention in Rye Brook, NY.)

6:30 pm: Reading, Seneca Room
Larry Hodges Reading (Ends at 6:55 pm)

1:00 pm: Humor in Science Fiction & Fantasy, Salon A
When is it good to have a laugh? An exploration of not only humorous books, but putting humorous elements in a dramatic story. Panelists: Doc Coleman (M), William Freedman, Larry Hodges, Alex Shvartsman, Jean Marie Ward

2:00 pm: The Care and Feeding of Critique Groups, Bethesda Room
Participating in a critique group can be a great way to improve your writing. Not all such groups work out well, though. The panel will discuss ways to keep a critique group helpful, vibrant, and long-lived. Panelists: Jeanne Adams, Deidre Dykes, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Larry Hodges, Gayle Surrette (M)

4:00 pm: Politics in Science Fiction & Fantasy, Rockville/ Potomac Room
If you have a civilization, you have politics. A discussion on the types of politics used in science fiction and fantasy, looking at why certain types seem to appear in certain genres. Panelists: Anthony Dobranski, Larry Hodges, Karen Wester Newton (M), Ian Randal Strock, David Walton

5:00 pm: Author Table, Author Hallway Table
Larry Hodges (Ends at 5:25 pm)

7:30 pm: Mass Autograph Session, Salon A
Saturday evening mass autographing session. (Ends at 8:25 pm)

8:30 pm: WSFA Small Press Award, Salon A
The WSFA Small Press Award winner will be announced. The Guest of Honor Gifts will also be presented. (Ends at 9:55 pm). Presenter: Steve Stiles


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Galaxy’s Edge and New Myths


Campaign 2100 Front FinalI have two new stories that just went online on Sept. 1:

Manbat and Robin” at Galaxy’s Edge. This is the story of a bat that thinks it’s a superhero. It was inspired by an actual bat that flew in my window during a writing workshop!

A Snowball’s Chance” at New Myths. This is the story of a time-looping good witch who is out to stop a bad witch – armed with nothing but a snowball and a mind-boggling secret.

This morning I sold another story to Galaxy’s Edge, “The Electrifying Aftermath of a Demon Thrice Summoned,” the story of two presidential candidates (one of them the president) who keep summoning a demon to cause havoc on the opposing campaign, and the “electrifying” aftermath when he is summoned the third time. (The poor demon just wants peace and quiet so he can read a little Dante and Faulkner!) This is my 7th sale to Galaxy’s Edge, my 14th “pro” sale, and 70th short story sale overall. (A lot of 7s there!)

One other piece of news – my story “Leashing the Muse” is a finalist at the Washington Science Fiction Association’s Small Press Award. The winner will be announced at Capclave on Oct. 8 – I’ll be there! (I’m a panelist, and will have both reading and signing sessions.)

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Review of Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, and Balticon


Campaign 2100 Front FinalHere’s a great review from the SF Crow’s Nest on Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions. He gave a nice rundown, then wrote, “There are so many good things in this novel that I’m bursting to share them but that would spoil it for the first time reader.” Here’s how he finishes the review:

“Anyway, it’s a marvellous book. Easy reading, fast-paced, lots of surprise plot twists, likeable heroes, a loveable alien and a gripping climax that takes the election right to the wire. Highly recommended.”

It’s available in paperback and ebook – did I mention that through this Friday (May 27) there’s a $1.99 special on the ebook version?

This weekend I’ll be at the Balticon SF Convention where I’ll be hobnobbing with George R.R. Martin (alas, I’m not on any panels with him) and others.


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Interviews and Sales and New Stories and Reviews and Cover Unveilings, Oh My!


Campaign 2100 Front FinalIt’s been a great week! Here are the highlights.

  • On Sunday, I was interviewed at Aspiring Authors Unite. Topics included my new novel (Campaign 2100), how to find a publisher, how I became interested in writing, how to make a protagonist a believable character, what characters are the hardest to write and why, “believable” vs. “Larger than life” characters, what makes my fiction unique, my writing process, the theory of “write what you know,” how to avoid info dumps, advice to starting writers, what I like to read and my favorite authors, and projects I’m working on now.
  • On Monday I sold a story to Galaxy’s Edge, “Manbat and Robin.” This is the humorous story of a bat that thinks it’s a superhero, and his silent partner, a robin. The story was inspired by an actual bat flying in my window at a writing workshop, “The Never Ending Odyssey,” an annual nine-day gathering of graduates of the six-week Odyssey Writing Workshop. The bat flopped about the apartment for about 15 minutes before we shooed it out. The story was originally titled “The Bat Nerd,” and then “Manbat,” the title it was submitted under. Editor Mike Resnick changed the title to “Manbat and Robin,” a nice improvement. It’s my third sale to Galaxy’s Edge, all this year, including a story in the current issue, “Pretty Pictures at War.” (Here are reviews of it at Tangent and SF Revu.) They are a SFWA pro market, so it’s a nice sale! (It’s my tenth “pro” sale and 75th overall.)
  • On Wednesday I finalized two new stories, “Rush City” (6200 words) and “Zombies Anonymous” (1000 words). I plan to submit both to The Never Ending Odyssey writing workshop this summer (July 22-30) for critique, along with one other story. The first is a somewhat comic takeoff on Westerns, with a gun-slinging centaur running for sheriff in Rush City – but he must first face off with elf bandits, the dwarf, the vampire, and the red-eyed unicorn, while protecting an overly talkative ogre and dryad bankers. The story has a huge twist! The second is about a math professor who turns into a zombie, but has all his normal thinking skills except for that mysterious thing he refers to as a “moral compass.” He eats his former colleague and discusses with his colleague’s daughter the Zombies Anonymous program while thinking zombie thoughts, and somehow tuna fish sandwiches keep coming up. The opening lines are, “A zombie has no moral compass. That’s why I had no compunctions about eating my best friend David.”
  • There are now four reviews at Amazon for my novel Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, all very positive. Three are 5-star, the other is a 4-star.
  • Here are two cover unveilings from fellow World Weaver Press authors:
    BITE SOMEBODY by Sara Dobie Bauer
    OMEGA RISING by Anna Kyle

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Lunacon 2016 and Live to Read


Lunacon2016-autograph-session-smI have a guest blog on the Live to Read Blog: “The Big Ideas of Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions.” It features my new novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions.

This weekend I had a great time at Lunacon in Rye Brook, NY, Fri-Sun, where I was promoting my novel. But it didn’t start that way! I started the four-hour drive at 9:30AM Friday, figuring I’d get there around 1:30PM, and lounge around my hotel room until my first panel at 4PM. But nothing went right on the drive – but I’ll get to that shortly.

Some Lunacon highlights:

  • My autograph session. Here’s a picture! (Smaller version is above.) On the left you can see the huge poster of the cover of my novel. On the right is a flyer for it, next to a box of chocolates I gave out. In between were my five science fiction & fantasy books – three novels and two short story anthologies.
  • I blogged about my schedule on Friday. I was on six panels, plus a reading and the autograph session. The panels were:
    • The Opening Page” – I spoke about how you, in a short story, you should hook the reader in the first 100 words; in a novel, the first page.
    • Tag-Team Literary Improv” – we took turns continuing a story, each speaking for a minute or so, and then “tagging” another on the panel. In one of my segments I had the unnamed president of the United States pull off his skin, revealing that he was in fact a giant alien worm!
    • The Biggest Mistake New Writers Make” – I spoke at length about the importance of hooking the reader early on, similar to what I’d said in “The Opening Page” panel. I pointed out the three stages of development here: Beginners, who often spend ten pages setting up the situation, developing the characters, describing the setting, etc., without getting to the story. In the second stage they learn to start with the story, and do all that other stuff at the same time. And then there’s the advanced stage (I pointed at Robert J. Sawyer, who was on the panel), where the writer has a reputation, and so can get away with more meandering at the start – which often leads to a better story, just a slower start.
    • Who Put This Message in My Fiction?” – I spoke about various novels that have messages without banging your head on it, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Towing Jehovah” by James Marrow. The key is to have the characters literally live through message situations, so the reader sees it from their point of view – the racism in “Mockingbird,” problems with religion in “Jehovah.” Hopefully, in my novel “Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions,” rather than preach about the problems of a two-party electoral system, I had the reader experience it through the adventures of characters running a campaign in it.
    • Q&A About Writers Groups” – I went over my experiences at the many I’ve been to – Odyssey, TNEO, Taos Toolbox, Orson Scott Card (I refrained from certain commentary about that…),,, as well as local groups, including
    • Round Robin Writing Workshop” – this was for kids ages 13-21, but alas, none showed up.
  • Sharing a panel and going to dinner Saturday night with Robert J. Sawyer, the dean of Canadian SF, a Hugo and Nebula winner, and author of the new Quantum Night (which I’d read the week before, days after it came out). The panel was “The Biggest Mistake New Writers Make.” I also shared panels with Hildy Silverman (editor of Space and Time, which has published three of my stories), who also joined us for dinner on Saturday. I was also on a panel with Gordon van Gelder, long-time past editor of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I could probably name all my fellow panelists, as they were all illustrious writers and editors!
  • Hot tub on Friday and Saturday night! I read on my kindle both times for an hour – I’m reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which is excellent so far, but very long.
  • Reading – I read the first chapter of Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, and the openings to chapters 2 and 3. I also gave out chocolate.

Now, about that drive to Lunacon . . . let’s start with the obvious – I’m not that experienced in long-distance driving, and I really don’t like driving at all. I’d much, Much, MUCH rather be a billionaire with a full-time chauffeur. Normally when I travel up and down the east coast it’s in my other profession, professional table tennis coach, where my students (or their parents) do the driving to tournaments, while I just do the coaching.

In preparation for this mammoth journey, I tested my Moto D smart phone GPS on Thursday, using the quarter-mile ride to the dentist (with three turns) as a test. It worked beautifully! (Alas, I had to have a fractured filling replaced.) It also worked on the way back. So I figured it would work on the way to Lunacon. Hah!

I didn’t bother with it the first hour. As I approached Baltimore on I-95 I turned it on – and it wouldn’t work. I pulled over and spent some time trying to get it to work, but it kept saying it couldn’t connect. I finally gave up on it and decided I’d have to wing it. I had basic directions, which basically said take I-95 nearly the whole way (how hard could that be?), and then turn west on I-287, and a few turns after that I’d be there.

Unfortunately, I never got the memo that to stay on I-95, you actually have to take the NJ Turnpike. In past trips as a passenger I remember being on it, but hadn’t really paid attention. So when I saw signs for the Turnpike, I ignored them and focused on staying on I-95. Eventually it sort of ended, and I had no idea what was going on. How could I take I-95 to I-287 if I-95 suddenly ended? I remembered the NJ Turnpike signs, and decided to try that. So I turned back, got on the Turnpike – and soon there were signs that it was both the Turnpike and I-95!!! Or something like that.

I stopped for a quick lunch at a McDonalds drive-through at a rest stop. Another Hah! There were two cars ahead. The first went through quickly. The second was a van. The woman driving began to quiz the person on the speaker about everything on the menu – salads, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, etc. Then she finally ordered a salad. As I impatiently waited, the speaker said, “Will that be all?” Then I heard the single worst word you can ever hear in this situation – “No.” She turned back and began quizzing a kid in the van, who then tried to order. The speaker said he couldn’t hear what the kid was saying, and so the kid climbed forward, and began debating what to have. This took some time. He finally gave his order. Again the speaker said, “Will that be all?” And again, that dreaded word – “No!”

I’ll give you the short version. There were eight kids in the car, and they each climbed forward and gave their order, one at a time. None were prepared. It took over 15 minutes for them to order. Dear Lady in the Car: When you have eight kids in a car, and nobody knows what they want, go inside!!!

With all these delays, I hit the dreaded NY traffic, and soon it was bumper to bumper. I began to realize I might not make my first panel at 4PM. Then it became almost certain. Finally, at about ten minutes to four, with me being about 20 minutes away, the traffic let up – and I took off, hoping to be just a little late. Is it really wrong to do 70mph on a highway? That’s what nearly everyone does! And yet, 30 seconds after the traffic let up, I was pulled over for speeding! Yep, I got an $88 ticket. I think it’s my first in over 20 years.

I made it to the first panel at 4:25 PM, and gave a good (but very condensed) version of the above, including waving the speeding ticket around. (I should have taken up a collection…).

I later figured out I my smart phone had reached its “data limit,” due to some kids using it to download and play games. I fixed the problem, and was able to use it to return home on Sunday night.

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Lunacon 2016


Campaign 2100 Front FinalI’m driving up to Lunacon this morning, about a 4.5 hour drive. I’m on six panels and a reading, plus two autograph sessions. I’m there to promote my novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, plus to have a little vacation. Here’s my schedule.

The Opening Page
FRI 4PM Westchester Ballroom D6
For a new writer especially, the first page has to grab a potential reader. We discuss what works and what doesn’t. Bring writing samples of your first page and let’s see what grabs us.
Panelists: Ben Parris, Alex Shvartsman, Larry Hodges, Kate Paulk, Hildy Silverman

Tag-Team Literary Improv
FRI 6PM William Odelle Room
A panel of four or five authors with one host. The host or the audience provide one or more writing prompts and the panelists begin verbally telling a story in the round based on those prompts until the storyline peters out. Another prompt is given and the process starts again. The last ten minutes of the panel are reserved for a turn-around, where the panelists give the audience a prompt and they have to produce their own story in the round.
Panelists: Louis Epstein (M), Kate Paulk, Anatoly Belilovsky, Hildy Silverman, Daniell Ackley-McPhail, David Skiar, Larry Hodges

SAT 4-4:30PM William Odelle Room
I’ll be reading from my new SF novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions.Free Chocolates!!!

The Biggest Mistake New Writers Make
SAT 5PM Westchester Ballroom D6
From poor openings to uninteresting characters to clichéd plots, this panel will discuss the most common storytelling mistakes seen from new authors. This will also discuss promotional and business mistakes.
Panelists: Michael Ventrella (M), Larry Hodges, Hildy Silverman, Robert J. Sawyer, Gary Frank

Who Put This Message in My Fiction?
SAT 7PM Westchester Ballroom D4
Some readers like a story with a theme or message. Others like their fiction not to preach about an author’s favorite issues and just tell a good story. At one point is fiction better for having a message? Does it matter if an author has beliefs you don’t appreciate if he or she can write a great story? Let’s discuss the value of messages in fiction (though without arguing about the merits of any particular political, religious, or social agenda).
Panelists: David Walton (M), Lawrence Kramer, Ed Meskys, Larry Hodges

Q&A About Writers Groups
SUN 11AM Westchester Ballroom D6
How Do Writers’ Groups Work? What Writers’ Groups Are in the Area? Why Should a Writer Be in a Writers’ Group? Bring your questions. Share your knowledge.
Panelists: Richard Herr (M), Ken Altabef, Larry Hodges

Round Robin Writing Workshop
SUN 1PM Westchester Ballroom A1
Interesting ideas? Not sure how to get started? Tired of all those awful assignments in school? Work with published authors to create something real that you can take home and finish. Ask questions and become INSPIRED! (ages 14-21)
Panelists: Louis Epstein (M), Larry Hodges

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Opening Chapter of Quantum Night by Robert Sawyer


Review by Larry Hodges

It’s always a learning process to study a great novel – and so that’s what we’re going to do here as we examine the opening to Quantum Night, the new novel by Robert J. Sawyer.

What makes a good opening in a story? That should be obvious – it has to be interesting so that it draws the reader in, either directly in itself, or by asking questions that the reader wants answered. There are many ways of doing this. You might start in the middle of the action (as you usually should), such as having a ruthless neighbor arrange to kill the dog of a poor, ignored girl (“The Wizard of Oz”), or with a raid on an enemy colony (“Starship Troopers”). There are the obvious action-packed eye-candy openings used in Indiana Jones and James Bond movies. There are the enigmatic ones, such as the opening lines to “A Tale of Two Cities” (with its very long opening line that you should read that starts out, “It was the best of times, …”) and Moby Dick (“Call me Ishmael”).

There are many online articles on opening scenes; here’s “Great Beginnings” by Sawyer himself. (The article is specifically about openings for short stories, but the guidelines are mostly universal.) He goes over four types of openings, with variations of each:

  • An evocative description;
  • Introduce an intriguing character;
  • Starting with a news clipping or journal entry (trickiest way, he says);
  • Starting in the middle of the action (most versatile way).

Science fiction is the genre of ideas, and its opening scenes should reflect that. A classic example of this – if a novel that came out this month can be considered “classic” – is the opening chapter to Sawyer’s new novel, “Quantum Night.” He starts off with an intriguing character, a professor who lives in the world of neuroscience, who believes you can test whether people are psychopaths, but defends their actions as being something they cannot help, since it is their nature. Sawyer chose this opening scene carefully – as he wrote in his article on Beginnings, “If you’re going to start somewhere other than the natural beginning of the tale, you have to choose carefully.” In this case, he chose a scene that allowed him to draw us into this professor’s world, despite being only indirectly involved with the main story.

If I were to tell you the opening chapter begins with this professor teaching a college class, that wouldn’t sound so interesting, would it? That’s how the novel starts. And yet it’s enthralling as this is how Sawyer draws us into this professor’s world. He’s teaching a class on the Neuroscience of Morality, and right from the start Sawyer gives us a steady barrage of ideas and tidbits.

The novel starts with Professor James Marchuk professing his love of teaching to “… row after row of angst-soaked teenagers.” (Though not as much as his love of watching “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Arrested Development” – so he’s fully human.) Then it moves to an interlude of the professor being hired to defend a psychopathic killer, where he’d have to prove the killer was a psychopath, and that he therefore couldn’t control his actions. Then it goes to the actual trial, and then back to the classroom scene – all of this in chapter one. Throughout these opening scenes, Sawyer keeps dropping in ideas, details, and hints:

  • Humans as stimulus-response machines whose black-box brains simply spit out predictable reactions to inputs (from Watson and Skinner).
  • Savannah Prison photos from WikiLeaks, showing prison torture scenes by psychopathic prison guards, where “…each of these men and women had dehumanized the perceived enemy, and, in the process, had lost their own humanity.”
  • Mentions of Abu Ghraib and torture.
  • Stanley Milgram’s shock-machine obedience-to-authority experiments, where subjects were willing to apply electric shocks on others upon the request of authority figures.
  • A student argues: “You can’t change human nature.” This of course hints at one of the themes of the novel.
  • The professor defends a psychopathic killer (Becker) – who we will chillingly meet toward the end of the chapter.
  • Mention of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, wealthy university students who in 1924 killed a boy just for kicks, and were defended by Clarence Darrow as psychopaths who “…couldn’t be executed for doing what his nature dictated he do” – and the revelation that the professor agrees with this assessment: “You can’t execute someone for being who they are.”
  • The Hare Assessment test for psychopaths (lots of tidbits on this).
  • The story of Princeton seminary students, rushing to give presentation on the parable of the Good Samaritan, but ignoring a man slumped over in an alleyway.
  • The professor, from Canada, arguing with an American over separation of church and state – American: “Honey, there ain’t no such thing. Y’all socialists up there, right?”
  • Mentions of Vladimir Putin, Steve Harper, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and new USA president Quinton Carroway – sort of a mix of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
  • Homeland Security threat levels (orange, etc.).
  • Megyn Kelly on The Daily Show defending the killing of an illegal alien (“Look,” she says, “it is a fact that this guy was in our country illegally.”), and hints that homicide might be redefined as killing a legal resident.
  • The professor on the witness stand getting grilled, with conflicting testimony on whether Becker is a psychopath.
  • And the chapter’s bombshell ending, where the professor says, “Dr. Goldsmith is dead wrong, and Dr. Bagi is right. Devon Becker is a psychopath, and I can prove it – prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt.” How can anyone not turn the page?

Who needs Indiana Jones or James Bond when you can have a barrage of tidbits that make you want to say, “Ideas and details and hints, oh my!” As to the rest of the book, you learn about utilitarianism (‘The greatest good for the greatest number”), the possible number of psychopaths in society (more than you’d think – and he names names!), how much our morality and what makes us what we are might be based on the “quantum superposition of electrons in neuronal microtubules in our brains,” and numerous other philosophical and scientific issues, including the central concept of the novel – the nature of consciousness itself. It’s a compelling, must-read story of mind-numbing concepts as we play around with the ideas of the mind itself.


Larry Hodges is the author of Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions (from World Weaver Press), featuring the election of 2100, where the world has adopted the American two-party electoral system, with an incredulous alien ambassador along for the ride.

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