Larry Hodges is a science fiction and fantasy writer, as well as a table tennis coach. (Yes, that’s a strange combination.) Larry is a graduate of the 2006 Odyssey Writing Workshop, the 2007 Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp, and the 2008 Taos Toolbox Writers Workshop. He’s an active member of SFWA with over 100 short story sales, including ones to Analog, Amazing Stories, and Escape Pod, and 18 to Galaxy’s Edge. He’s also published several novels (When Parallel Lines Meet, co-written with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn; Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions; Sorcerers in Space; and The Spirit of Pong) and short story collections (Pings and Pongs, More Pings and Pongs, and Still More Pings and Pongs). In the world of non-fiction, Larry’s a full-time writer with 17 books and over 1,900 published articles in over 170 different publications. You can visit him online at www.larryhodges.com.
Part 1 of this interview, posted last Sunday, is available here.
One of your most recent publications is “Ninety-Nine Sextillion Souls in a Ball,” in the November/December 2021 issue of Dark Matter Magazine. What led you to write this story?
I like to take ideas to their logical extremes. I took the passage from the Bible, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” and wondered what would happen if the world were taken over by religious fanatics who took this to its logical conclusion. Assume they have advanced technology that can convert matter into food and other necessities, and other needed technologies. Let’s assume every woman from age 13 on is forced to have a baby every nine months, and nobody dies. Then population would eventually start doubling every six years. (It’s a little more complicated than that—fortunately, I have a degree in math, and I had a math professor check my work.) The numbers go up exponentially—believe it or not, it would take only about 250 years to convert the entire Earth’s mass into humans, and they would number about 99 sextillion! So that was the story I wrote. (99 Sextillion is 99,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.)
What was one of the most challenging short stories you’ve written to date? What made it challenging? How did you overcome the challenges to finish the story?
That might have been “The Nature of Swords,” a story I sold to Galaxy’s Edge a few years ago. It was a fantasy future where warring humanity had created super-weapons—basically magical swords—and with them, killed themselves off. Long after humans were gone these magic swords were still around, floating about and socializing in old, crumbling castles, and spending their days sparring to pass the time. One of the swords decides to search the world to see if there are any surviving humans. In the early drafts, the story and worldbuilding came off well, but the key was making each of the swords into real characters. It involved a lot of rewriting, but eventually it worked!
Another tricky one was “Pretty Pictures at War,” which involved interactions between 3-D and 4-D characters. It took a lot of thinking to really visualize the 4-D world to the point where I could describe it effectively. But it led to my first sale to Galaxy’s Edge (see below), and it turned me into an “expert” on writing about 4-D worlds—which led to three more pro story sales, including one to Analog!
What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?
Because I tend to be idea- and humor/satire-oriented, I have to make sure my characters aren’t just cardboard figures playing out the ideas or humor. The best way to avoid this is to make the characters part of the idea. For example, I once contemplated what would happen if someone went to war with a 4-D civilization. Who would have the resources to do that? Only a super-billionaire or world leader. Who would have the motivation? Someone who (inadvertently) was humiliated by a 4-D being. Result? I came up with a super-billionaire who was humiliated by a 4-D being and so his entire life was now consumed by revenge, to the point where (after careful planning) he puts together a 3-D army and invades the 4-D universe. Things don’t go as planned—and the idea of this situation and character led to “Pretty Pictures at War,” which sold to Galaxy’s Edge.
What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?
I’ve sold three SF novels (plus one self-published one I did for a specific market), but I’m focusing on short stories right now. I just finished a story about a flat earth “scientist” who goes to the edge of the Earth (which is flat!) and jumps off—which leads to various adventures. Another is about a kidnapped alien boy who is trapped in a car trunk with just a smart phone (but blocked from sending messages), and so he uses an app on his super-advanced phone to create a virtual world that evolves into Earth and humanity, whose sole purpose is to help the boy (via the NSA) to find a password so he can open the trunk and escape. (Yep, Earth and humanity are just virtual creations on a smart phone created to find a password to rescue this kid!) Another is about what happens if we make the dumb mistake of using DNA manipulation to create super-smart cats with opposable thumbs/claws. There’s also a story I’m working on about an elderly woman who is running from the Galactic police—and lands on a planet with very low gravity, where the people have little technology and are all super weak, and she discovers that on that world, she’s a superhero—or supervillain. But my favorite current WIP is a story where everyone in the world but one gets superpowers and everyone becomes either a superhero or supervillain—and so there’s a continuous, non-stop war as the supervillains try to kill the one non-hero while the superheroes try to save him. I love the story—but my original ending didn’t work. As soon as I finish this interview, I’m going to get back to that since I’ve finally come up with a perfect ending!