Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!
Today we’re joined by Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor’s Blades, first book of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, available January 14th from Tor Books. You can read the first seven chapters of the book here on Tor.com, or download them for free from your favorite ebook provider!
Brian has taught literature, religion, history, and philosophy, all subjects that influence his novels, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. He works as an editor for Antilever Press, and has published poetry and essays, both in print and on-line. He lives in Vermont with his wife and young son, and divides his time between running trails, splitting wood, writing, and baby-wrangling.
Join us as we cover subjects ranging from avocados to the Dalai Lama, and more!
Do you have a favorite etymology?
It’s wonderful that “patience” and “passion” come from the same root—Latin pati, to suffer, to endure. Passion itself has had an interesting career. It started out as suffering (c.f. Christ’s passion), then extended to the romantic sufferings of unrequited love, then ditched the suffering part, and came to mean “a hot, sexy feeling.”
Speaking of hot and sexy, “avocado” comes from the Nahuatl for “testicle,” while “vanilla” is the diminutive of “vaina” which comes from the Latin, “vagina.”
If you could go back in time and change one thing in the past, what would it be?
SWEET HEAVENS, PEOPLE! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’RE PROPOSING? EVEN THE SMALLEST ACTION WOULD RAMIFY UNPREDICTABLY, A STOCHASTIC PROCESS THAT COULD DESTROY US AND EVERYTHING WE HOLD DEAR.
Please try to be more responsible.
The death of the fifth Dalai Lama (the one responsible for unifying Tibet and building the Potala Palace) was kept secret for fourteen years (1682-1694), until a child was found who seemed to possess the necessary qualities of the sixth Dalai Lama. The elaborate ruse involved getting an old monk to sit on the throne for important audiences with the Mongols and other foreign emissaries.
None of this is directly relevant to The Emperor’s Blades, but it’s a great reminder of how imperfect the access to information was in the pre-modern world. We take for granted the ability to know almost anything almost instantly (how to make a squirrel pie, the location of the Mississippi River, the weather in Bhutan, Miley Cyrus’s latest hi-jinks), but for the vast majority of human history this instant scratching of the curious itch wasn’t possible. Even the most powerful kings and prophets wore the blinders of their time, blinders that provide the writer of fantasy with great opportunities. Imperfect information can force difficult and destructive choices on all manner of characters—and there’s nothing better than difficult and destructive choices.
What kind of apocalypse (zombie, robot, etc.) is the most compatible with your survival skills? And what kind of apocalypse would you like to avoid at all costs?
I give myself good odds against the zombies. The first day is the most dangerous, because you don’t even know there’s a zombie apocalypse going on yet. You could just be buying a hot dog and BOOM… infected. Make it past that, though, and the playbook seems pretty straightforward. Unless it’s those zombies from I Am Legend, in which case you’re pretty much hosed no matter what you do.
No one will survive the robopocalypse. All that Terminator business about hiding out in bunkers and waiting for dogs to bark at the robots… horseshit. When the machines come for us, we won’t even know they’re coming. We’ll be eating hot dogs, and then we’ll be blown up. The only hope is that when Skynet becomes self-aware, all it will really want to do is sell us kitchen widgets and accessories for our phones.
What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Who needs a method?
What is your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source?
The Old Dark Frog from Frog and Toad. Just terrifying:
“I am not hungry now. I have eaten too many tasty frog children. But after I jump rope one hundred times, I will be hungry again. Then I will eat YOU!”