Welcome to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a brand new series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors! We’ve asked each author to choose 5-10 talking points from a much longer list of questions – some of which are serious and straightforward, some of which are admittedly pretty geeky and not serious at all, and some of which are probably just weird. Every Pop Quiz will be slightly different, and should be a fun and entertaining way of getting to know these writers a little bit better….
This week, author Malinda Lo (Ash, Huntress, and most recently, Adaptation) has graciously agreed to be our first Pop Quiz participant. Please join us below as we talk about wizards, rock bands, fictional vacation spots, and some favorite villains….
What’s the strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
My newest novel, Adaptation, is very much inspired by The X-Files, so I did a lot of research into conspiracy theories while writing it. I discovered a lot of crazy things about what we believe (or want to believe), but my favorite has to be journalist Annie Jacobsen’s theory about what actually happened at Roswell. Jacobsen published a giant tome in 2011 called Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base. It’s an excellent work of military history, actually, and I thought it was fascinating, but I’m not sure I totally buy her account of the “truth” behind Roswell. She claims that a high-level insider told her that remains of a crashed craft really were found at Roswell, but it wasn’t extraterrestrial in origin – the craft was allegedly sent by the Soviet Union to freak out the United States. The dead bodies that were inside the craft were the remains of children who had been tortured by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. If you ask me, that sounds a lot crazier than the idea that aliens crash landed in Roswell!
If you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your latest book, who would it be?
Metric. They’re a Canadian indie rock band. I don’t know how I found out about them, but their album Fantasies was basically on repeat when I wrote a good portion of Adaptation. I really identify their song “Help I’m Alive” with the main character of the book. What I love about this song is that the lyrics seem like a cry for help (“help I’m alive”) but the music beneath it isn’t at all weak. I like that contradiction. In the chorus, Emily Haines sings: “Hard to be soft / Tough to be tender.” The words imply that the person crying for help isn’t soft or tender; she struggles to be tender. That’s at the heart of the main character’s arc.
Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?
I’ve noticed that in my fiction so far I often write about people who live a very, very long time. They’re not immortal, but their life expectancies are a lot longer than ours. I must have a secret desire to have a really long life, so I’d have to choose the fountain of youth. Plus, then I can be alive when someone else discovers proof of life on Mars!
Two roads diverge in a yellow wood: one leads toward a mysterious laboratory in which a mad scientist is currently ensconced. The other winds its way toward a tower inhabited by a powerful wizard. You could really use a snack, and it would be nice to have somewhere to crash for the night—which road do you choose?
I would go for the powerful wizard because hey, I’ve always wanted to meet a powerful wizard. Also, I feel that the mad scientist would be less likely to have good food than the powerful wizard. Most powerful wizards have a lot of servants (“powerful” = lots of servants), which means they probably have a cook and a kitchen staff. I expect I would be served a delicious meal in the wizard’s dining room, where I’d be seated all alone at a very long table with a goblet of very fine wine. Or—even better!—maybe I’d get to eat dinner on a tray (probably stew, but I bet it would be yummy) by the fire in the wizard’s library, because obviously the wizard has a library. Finally, I would also expect that the wizard’s tower contains some very plush guest rooms, likely furnished with velvet curtains and big four-poster beds. I would rather sleep in the luxurious wizard’s tower than on a cot in the mad scientist’s lab while drinking canned soup heated up on a Bunsen burner.
Choose your preferred fictional vacation spot: Narnia or Middle-earth (or some other fictional realm)….
I want to go on vacation in Hogsmeade, the all-wizarding village in the Harry Potter universe. I have to admit I’m an anglophile, so not only would I get to go to England, I’d get to go to magic England, which is even more awesome. I’d definitely like to stop by the Hog’s Head pub for some genuine butterbeer, although I’m hoping they’d have whisky too. And maybe they’d have tours of the nearby Hogwarts, wherein you can dine in the big dining hall from mounds of delicious treats prepared by house elves? One can only dream.
Name your three favorite fictional villains of all time. Alternately: Heroes vs. Villains: which are more fun to write?
Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance Chronicles, Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Number Six from the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. You’ll notice they all have something in common: they’re all blond! This is key.
I love to write villains, although I should clarify that I don’t really think of them as villains; I think of them as morally challenged individuals. They are fun to write because they do all sorts of bad stuff, and they usually enjoy it while they’re in the moment. But my favorite villains are also tortured, later on, by some amount of regret. I’m not a fan of villains who are just bad bad bad to the bone; I like them to have some complexity. That’s not to say that they’re going to reform, but their worlds are painted in shades of gray, and sometimes they favor their dark sides. Except in their hair color.
Malinda Lo’s first novel, Ash, a retelling of Cinderella with a lesbian twist, was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award for YA Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the Lambda Literary Award. Her second novel, Huntress, was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Her young adult science fiction duology, beginning with Adaptation, is now available from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Visit her website at www.malindalo.com.