Photo credit: Michael Moroney

Christopher Hooton is a policy wonk turned sci-fi writer. How does that happen?  “I had always liked writing from when I was a kid and in high school. I actually wrote my first book when I was 21 in undergrad,” he told Hollywood on the Potomac. “It was the summer between my junior and senior year that I wrote what was kind of a travel memoir that has since turned into an actual novel. I had finished this trip where I had gone backpacking for ten weeks in Germany and Central Europe after my freshman year of college; then, a couple years later, I just realized I should write what I remembered down somewhere. It was kind of a slow process over about nine, ten years.  I also wrote a travel memoir about a trip with my parents to Peru. I had always enjoyed writing, but I’d never really seen myself as a writer, for whatever reason. It wasn’t until I started to travel, and would tell stories to friends of mine, from trips that I had done, that I realized that I had some good stories, that I had seen some interesting things, and that some of it could actually be written down. More than going into writing as, ‘This is what I’m going to do for my career,’ I’ve always just enjoyed it. I’ve always found it relaxing.”

Congrats Chris

“The economics and policy side of the things comes from also being interested in policy,” he added,  “but economics came from a specific course that I had done my freshman year of college on global cities. I pursued that as a challenge. I liked it because it wasn’t easy, it was interesting, it was useful in a lot of ways, but writing was the thing I would end up going to on the weekends if I had some time to myself to unwind.”

Hooton went on to earn a PhD at Cambridge but started working on his writing an hour here and an hour there while commuting into and out of London and would work on it on the train some days; and then got into a habit of writing every Sunday morning. “Basically, anywhere from an hour to five or six hours, I’d write in a room by myself.”  Hooton was the guest of honor at a book party hosted by Michael Moroney, Francesca Chambers and Hadas Gold for his just released novel “Observance.”

About the book: “Since human civilization nearly destroyed itself 84 years ago, The Curriculum has eliminated all violence by sending citizens on a series of trips back in time to condition out violent thoughts and tendencies. But the peace has just been broken by the first act of violence in the new civilization, a murder confessed to by a young genius. Now the fragile society must prepare for its first great challenge as it attempts to deal with a criminal at the edge of insanity and brilliance. Observance is a science fiction thriller and mystery that follows Dr. Richmond Marshall, a lawyer and businessman, as he is unexpectedly recruited to defend the criminal at his trial. Teamed with a rising legal scholar named Charlotte Luca, the pair struggles with how to defend a man who has confessed to a crime completely unheard of in their society. As they delve into the crime and the mind of the murderer, they begin to suspect that something far bigger is at play, something that could shatter the very foundations of the delicate peace that humanity has built.”  Amazon


Observance is set in Cambridge, so the setting is obviously relevant to his time doing his PhD there and teaching there. In terms of the topic area and the themes of the book, it’s not so much directly related to his work, but it did arise out of his work in a way. “I attended a conference in Jerusalem after my first year of college, and this is where I got the idea for this book. I was there with my fiancee, and we were talking while we were on a walking tour; the topic came up about how Israelis and Germans are sent to [visit] concentration camps when they are young, – high school, middle school age – precisely to prevent another Holocaust from ever happening. It’s two sides of the coin, but they go and it’s mandatory, and it’s, ‘Look at what’s in our history, let’s not let this happen again.’ I took that and expanded upon the idea over the course of the summit and thought about, ‘What if it was a larger scale?’ and whether or not that would work. It also relates to when I had backpacked on my own in Germany and in Central Europe, because I had visited a concentration camp, and done a tour while I was there.”

We asked Christoper the following question: “If you explore a world without violence, what would that look like? Would people just get bored? I don’t mean that sarcastically; but if there’s no strife in life, do people unravel in other ways?”

“Right. What I’m trying in the story to get across is kind of that moment, that breaking point.” responded Hooton.”It’s set within a couple of lifetimes of the nondescript war that wipes out most of humanity and most of society. It forwards, after a couple of lifetimes, to where you start getting children that have never known any type of real challenge. Everyone has a job, they all get assigned to things. Arts are back, science is back, research is back, and knowledge is really prized. In my mind, I envision the world as being largely composed of kind of college towns, which, from a military standpoint, wouldn’t have necessarily had much of a point to them, wouldn’t be much of a target, or at least a primary target. You get these very idyllic scenes within the vast wasteland of the world. Cambridge is the one where it’s set, but in the beginning, there’s a few scenes in Columbia, Missouri, where the main character is from and where the University of Missouri is at.”

Christopher Hooton and Hadas Gold

“Were you were thinking about that from an intellectual point of view, or just story-telling?” we asked. “Just from a story-telling [perspective] because I wanted that line of tension to come through after the murder has been announced and while everyone is grappling with it. You have, I think, two sides of the coin. One, you have the elites of the new society which tend to be businessmen, lawyers, academics, scientists, judges and they get to travel, and they have concerts, and fancy dinners, and then you have other groups who have completely comfortable lives, but they don’t see the big picture, in a way. It’s kind kept from them. The time-travel curriculum is done by a group and it’s largely secret. When that fails, when the observances fail, and when the curriculum fails, there’s not another way for people to get out their frustration.”

Q: “What are your plans now going forward? Which of the two professions do you prefer?”  A:”I might go back and do a final revision on the other two books and get them cleaner, because I wrote them when I was younger when I wasn’t as strong of a writer. Then, I have a fourth book planned out. The plot is mapped out, the characters, their back-stories are mapped out. I think have to wait and see how Observance does, and what the next opportunity is. Thankfully, now having the PhD, I am able to do consulting part-time which is not unrealistic. In an ideal world, I might consult or teach on policy more on a part-time basis, and then write full-time.”


Q: “Who is your audience? Is it a Scott Turow kind of thing? Is it Syfy channel?  Who do you want to reach and what do you want them to take away from it?”

A: “I think there’s two audiences. One would be just general sci-fi fans, but I don’t think it’s a hard-core sci-fi book. The reason for that being is, there’s not a lot of science in there. The science that’s in there is very loosely discussed, and you have to give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s more plot devices to get the story forward. When I was working on it, I had a friend read it, and she gave me some feedback, and she said something that stuck with me. I think this is the audience that I’m going for is that, she said: ‘It reads more like a ghost story, kind of turn-of-the century, like a Poe story, or some of the Victorian, scary, horror stories that came out of London and England’. It has a strong narrative. I think people that enjoy older, turn-of-the-century literature would enjoy it.”