Table Tennis in Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions
Today's blog has one goal – to convince you, a table tennis person, to buy Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, my science fiction novel that came out today – because it has table tennis! So, let me convince you. (If you absolutely are not interested, then skip down to the segments below.) We'll get to the table tennis parts in a moment. (And we'll be back to regular table tennis blogs tomorrow.)
We'll start with this 80-second video, which doesn't showcase table tennis, but was created by Nathan Hsu, who is rated 2474 and has been over 2500. A 2500 player could not possibly steer you wrong! A big thanks goes to Nathan for creating this, who wouldn't even take payment for it – so now I guess I'll have to coach him at tournaments or something.J
I blogged about the novel this morning in my science fiction blog, where I wrote about the two "Big Ideas" in the novel – moderation in politics, and the problems with a two-party electoral system. Again, no table tennis there, but it'll tell you more about the novel, which covers the election for president of Earth in the year 2100, where the world has adopted the American two-party electoral system, with an increasingly incredulous alien ambassador along for the ride. Sounds kind of timely, doesn't it?
Now we're going to talk about the table tennis in the novel! (There are a few minor spoilers.)
- One of the four main characters is the highly sarcastic and brilliant Bruce Sims. (Confession: he's really me, unleashed to say whatever I want.) He had helped run the campaign for the current president, but left the campaign over policy disagreements and because he considers the president an idiot. He plays professional table tennis on the college circuit - yes, it's professionalized - and he's quite wealthy from it. He's one of the best in the world, which is dominated by American and Chinese players.
- Chapter five takes place as Bruce is playing the semifinals of the national college championships. (See opening excerpt below.) At 19-all in the fifth – with the umpire mistakenly putting Bruce up 20-18 match point - he simultaneously gets into arguments with his opponent, with members of the crowd, and with the referee, all while listening to breaking news (in a mental implant) about the upcoming election and an alien ambassador who just arrived and got into a spat with the president - first contact. He walks off the court on the spot to get involved. Soon he's traveling the world running a quixotic third-party moderate challenge for president of Earth, against the conservative president and the liberal challenger. (Campaign slogan: "Extremism in the pursuit of moderation is no vice.")
- The publisher said the best chapter of the novel is the Ping-Pong Diplomacy scene in China, where Bruce and Twenty-two play an exhibition for the Chinese leadership while trying to convince them to support their candidate. After the match, things go terribly wrong . . . I wish I could say more but that would spoil it for you!
- Bruce teaches the alien ambassador, Twenty-Two, how to play table tennis. They play regularly as they travel the world during the campaign. Because her ancestors snatched flying insects out of the air, her reflexes and coordination are far beyond human - and she soon starts beating him, to his great chagrin.
- There's a scene where Bruce is walking through the Great Mall of China (500 miles long and growing, paralleling the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World introduced in the novel), and finds a table tennis store, where he buys a new racket. (His old one, Sling, had been broken.)
- Bruce is running the campaign for president for Toby Platt. Toby's son, Tyler, age 13, is also an active table tennis player and is running for president of his middle school. Despite his running a worldwide campaign for president, Bruce gets very involved in both coaching Tyler and running his campaign for school president.
- One of Bruce's idiosyncrasies is that he always carries a ping-pong ball around, tossing it back and forth in his hands, fidgeting with it, throwing it against walls, etc. When he's irritated at someone, he smacks him with the ball.
- In the year 2100, nearly all the top athletes, including professional table tennis players, are big, hulking brutes on steroid-type drugs. Bruce is one of the few who refuses to use them, and so is always at a disadvantage against his more powerful opponents. In fact, he names his racket Sling after the weapon used by David against Goliath.
- Bruce's racket Sling is the latest model of ping-pong paddle, a Maestro Prime covered with Spinsey pinhole sponge, both from Trump Sports. (I wrote this years before Trump entered the presidential race!) When the ball hits it, the Spinsey sponge compresses, forcing air out through the tiny, angled holes that permeate the surface. If he held it one way, the air shoots upward from the parallel holes, creating a topspin. If he flipped the paddle, so the backhand side became the forehand side and vice versa, then the air would shoot downward, creating a backspin. He also has shoes with variable grippiness, depending on the floor.
Here are eight ways the sport has changed in the year 2100:
- Table tennis is the #1 sport in world. Everyone watches it.
- As noted above, the sponge has microscopic holes that shoot air out when ball hits sponge. The holes are angled so they put topspin on the ball. If you flip the racket, it puts backspin on the ball.
- College players are all highly-paid professionals.
- Professional players use steroids as matter of course, except for Bruce, who refuses to use them even though they are completely safe. This is a huge handicap for him.
- Striped balls.
- Playing shoes have adjustable traction.
- Tables have sensors that detect hits.
- Games are back to 21 points
Here's the opening to Chapter Five, subtitled, "Arguing at the U.S. College Table Tennis Championships":
Bruce Sims stood in a relaxed ready position, clutching Sling, his paddle, as Notre Dame’s Todd Davis prepared to serve. The thousands in the packed stands surrounding the playing court in the Baltimore Convention Center quieted to a murmur.
Bruce glanced at the scoreboard; he led 19-18 in this game to twenty-one. They were in the fifth game of this best of five, so he was only two points away from victory in the semifinals of the USA National Collegiate Table Tennis Championships.
He was twenty-nine, with a thick mat of curly brown hair and several days’ beard growth. Sweat dripped down his face and from his red shirt, which was drenched and covered with corporate logos. The back of his shirt said “University of Maryland,” with a large holographic Pepsi logo underneath that seemed to leap off the shirt in a swirl of colors. When he’d worked for the Dubois Campaign, he’d been sponsored by Coke, but he’d switched to the obscure Pepsi afterwards rather than go the liberal route with Hancola.
Sling was the latest model of ping-pong paddle, a Maestro Prime covered with Spinsey pinhole sponge, both from Trump Sports. When the ball hits it, the Spinsey sponge compresses, forcing air out through the tiny, angled holes that permeate the surface. If he held it one way, the air would shoot upward from the parallel holes, creating a topspin. If he flipped the paddle, so the backhand side became the forehand side and vice versa, then the air would shoot downward, creating a backspin. He held it in the topspin position for attacking.
Bruce had never played the hulking Davis before, but he had scouting reports: powerful from both sides and quick off the bounce, but with a tendency to serve fast and deep too often. Not too bright for a high-ranking player. Bruce couldn’t match up with Davis backhand to backhand, but by anticipating many of the fast serves to the backhand and attacking them with his forehand, he’d battled the top-seeded freshman phenom into the final game. Bruce was used to taking on bigger, stronger players; it was why he’d named his paddle Sling, after David’s weapon against Goliath.
After losing in the final three years in a row, perhaps this was Bruce’s year to win. He’d already knocked off the number four seed in the quarterfinals.
So . . . have you rushed out yet to buy a copy of the table tennis-infused Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions?
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