The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: James L. Sutter

Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!

Today we’re joined by James L. Sutter, Managing Editor for Paizo Publishing and a co-creator of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game campaign setting. He is the author of the novel Death’s Heretic and its sequel, The Redemption Engine, available May 13th. You can read an excerpt here on! James has also written numerous short stories, and his anthology Before They Were Giants pairs the first published short stories of science fiction and fantasy luminaries with new interviews and writing advice from the authors themselves. In addition, he’s published a wealth of gaming material for both Dungeons & Dragons and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Chat with him on Twitter @jameslsutter.

Join us as we cover subjects ranging from nude photos to Guillermo del Toro, and more!

Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.

Both Wil Wheaton and George Takei have posted links to naked pictures of me on the internet, but we’ve never met and my name has never been attached to them…

What D&D character alignment best describes you first thing in the morning?

I’d love to say chaotic good, because deep down, don’t we all want to be the rebel with a just cause? In our own minds, everyone is Batman and Indiana Jones. But the truth is that no matter how many years I spent playing punk rock, I’ve never really gotten comfortable breaking laws. So while I’m no goody two-shoes paladin, I’m probably more neutral good.

(As far as mornings go, I wake up pretty much instantly, so my alignment doesn’t change. My wife, on the other hand, reenacts large swaths of evolutionary history each morning, starting at about “lungfish” and only hitting “delightful human” somewhere on the bus to work.)

Pathfinder Tales The Redemption Engine James L Sutter Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.

The Angel of Death from Hellboy 2. It’s totally a bit part, but I feel like that creature design perfectly captures the creepy mix of alien being and Judeo-Christian mythology that gives me chills. It was one of the primary inspirations for the caulborn, a race of immortal thought-eating scholars who feature in my new book, The Redemption Engine.


Choose your preferred fictional vacation spot: Narnia or Middle-earth (or some other fictional realm)…

Hogwarts! Narnia and Middle-earth are cool, but they’re still essentially medieval societies, and that means chamber pots and body lice. Hogwarts and the rest of the Harry Potter world have all the comforts of home, plus whimsical magic and bizarre creatures. And with the exception of a few villains, everybody seems nicer than usual there. (It’s kind of like a magical Canada in that respect.) Maybe that comes from knowing anyone you meet could potentially turn you into a newt. A wanded society is a polite society…?

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’ve spent the last decade living with a mad scientist, and I have to say, it’s been pretty great. Our last house, the Ministry of Awesome, had a fully functional solar-powered death ray capable of melting a wide variety of metals. (We used it primarily for making tea and bacon at Burning Man.) There was also a short-lived bartending robot, a series of God Tubes (Rijke tubes that use heat to create self-amplifying standing waves, aka “super loud noises”), a flashbang made out of old camera parts that could vaporize aluminum, and at least a hundred pounds of heavy-duty batteries with “FUCK YEAH, SCIENCE!” and a mushroom cloud stenciled on the side. So yeah, life with a mad scientist is pretty cool, if a bit messy.

For that reason, I’d pick the wizard. New experiences, and all that.

If you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your (new/last/latest) book, who would it be?

Probably Oh, Sleeper—they’re a hardcore metal band that does concept albums about Christian mythology, often from the devil’s point of view. That seems like a perfect match for The Redemption Engine, given that it’s all about conflict between devils and angels. (I also played for years in a hardcore metal band called Shadow at Morning, and those guys were a huge influence. These days I play in a group called Brides of the Lizard God, which is far less serious—more of an Iron Maiden/The Darkness thing.)

What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?

The two books that I remember really getting me into fantasy were Richard Knaak’s The Crystal Dragon and Joel Rosenberg’s The Sword and the Chain. Neither were the first books in their series, but both of them instantly drew me in.

Funnily enough, Rosenberg’s series, The Guardians of the Flame, starts with a bunch of college kids getting sucked into a fantasy world through a thinly veiled Dungeons & Dragons analogue. At the time, I had never heard of roleplaying games, and was almost as fascinated by the concept of the game as by the world they entered. Now, twenty-some years later, I’ve spent a full third of my life working in the gaming industry. So I suppose that book was important in a number of ways!

Cast the main characters of your new/upcoming novel (in other words, choose your dream cast for a Hollywood adaptation of your book).

From the very first scene in Death’s Heretic (the book to which my new novel, The Redemption Engine, is a standalone sequel), I’ve always known who I wanted to play Salim, my main character. Naveen Andrews in his role as Sayid on Lost was a major inspiration, not just for his appearance but for that jaded ex-military confidence.

Gav the street urchin would be a mash-up of Max Casella and Christian Bale from their Newsies days. As a child, I always dreamed of being cast in Christian Bale’s role in a Newsies stage production. (Honestly, I still do.)

Maedora would be played by Natalie Portman, Jennifer Connelly, or Hillary Swank—all of them seem like they’d do the “stay out of my way or I’ll end you” bit pretty well. Hillary Swank gets bonus points because I saw Boys Don’t Cry at a young age, and it totally wrecked me. She can do anything.

Bors and Roshad would be played by the best gay Kazakh action heroes my casting director could find.

Pretty much everyone else would be designed by Guillermo del Toro and whichever visual effects studio he’s using at the time.

If you, as a ghost, could regularly haunt one celebrity, author, or literary figure, who would it be?

Dan Simmons. I’d constantly whisper in his ear, “Dan, this is God. I need you to ease up on the historical fiction and write more science fiction. Remember the Hyperion books? Those were great…”


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