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 author Thomas Sweterlitsch, who lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and daughter. He has a Master’s Degree in Literary and Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University. He worked for twelve years at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. His first novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, is available now from Putnam.
Join us as we learn the best defense against Freddy Krueger!
What is your favorite short story?
James Tiptree Jr., “The Girl Who Was Plugged In.”
If you could choose your own personal theme song to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?
This one’s easy—Rick Derringer’s “Real American,” otherwise known as Hulk Hogan’s Theme Music. I’d stomp into rooms, tear off my shirt, cup my hand to my ear and listen as everyone chants my name. Maybe overturn a table or two. Of course, in real life, I’m much more apt to slip into a room unnoticed and just sit quietly.
Do you have a favorite under-read author?
Alain Robbe-Grillet, champion of the “Nouveau Roman” (new novel). His novels, probably the best known of which is The Voyeur, feature filmic, obsessive descriptions of objects combined with uncanny repetition and Freudian impulses.
Battle to the death, which weapon do you choose: A) Phaser, B) Lightsaber, or C) Wand?
Well, let’s see…if I chose a Phaser (set to kill), a Jedi Knight would easily deflect my shots and cut me to pieces. If I chose a Lightsaber, Merlin (using his wand) might pull the old trick of transforming himself into a virus and infect me with necrotizing fasciitis, or something, killing me that way. So…I choose the Wand. Unlimited capabilities with the Wand. Firing up a Lightsaber would be kickass, though.
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
Freddy Krueger is not my favorite, but I will admit to something here. I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street shortly after its release on VHS—I would have been… Seven? Eight? Anyway, watching that movie immediately plunged me into lifelong recurring Freddy Krueger nightmares. I remember the first night after seeing that movie I slept hiding in a dirty clothes hamper because I was convinced Freddy would find me too easily in my bed.
The only way I started to control my Freddy Krueger nightmares was when I realized I could imagine RoboCop coming to save me (I saw RoboCop around that time, too—my parents let me watch anything). In my mind at the time, RoboCop wouldn’t be hurt by Freddy’s claws and he would be impervious to Freddy’s nightmare powers, so RoboCop just tore Freddy limb-from-limb and I was free to have a great night’s sleep. Looking back on it now, though, I realize that RoboCop has enough of Murphy’s mind to feel human emotions—which means he might have a subconscious and might be capable of dreaming after all…
Freddy is responsible for some of my best dreams, though—including the time he saved me from the Mouth of Hell which was a swirling vortex/abyss of fire that was going to consume everything, good and evil.
One last nightmare from that time in my life: I remember hearing a terribly gross, very loud pulsing sound just outside my bedroom door and I was paralyzed fearing that it was The Blob about to bulge into my room and eat me. Turns out it was just my cat throwing up.
Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?
I’m just going to assume that at some point humans will find life on another planet—whether it’s on Mars, or a moon of Jupiter, or wherever. Probably the first extraterrestrial life we find will be a single-celled organism living in a steam pool and the discovery will light up the evening news and go viral on Facebook for a few days before Kim Kardashian’s next trip to the shopping mall and life goes on much as it did before we discovered we’re not alone in the universe. So, I choose discovering the Fountain of Youth. Not sure I’d want to drink of it, but I bet I could at least appear on Shark Tank and get Mark Cuban to invest in the bottling. I’d live out the rest of my days as a very wealthy man.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
Primanti Brothers—this is the sandwich loaded with French fries that tourists and food show hosts always order when they come through Pittsburgh. I actually like to eat them on a semi-regular basis. My favorite (right now) is the hot Italian sausage sandwich. They have good wings, too.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
The Red Box.
I remember a choose-your-own-adventure book I read when I was very young called Zork: Conquest at Quendor. The Legend of Huma, a Dragonlance novel by Richard A. Knaak, was the first book I truly read on my own—so that was very important to me. Watership Down was the first book I ever loved—that’s fantasy-ish.
But…the single most essential SF/F moment in my life came when my older sister and I opened the Red Box—the beginner’s set of Dungeons and Dragons. The Red Box came with a set of plastic die that had numbers you had to color in yourself with an enclosed white crayon. I loved discovering D&D—that first adventure, descending into a dungeon labyrinth…
If you were secretly going to write fanfic (or, even better, slashfic) about any two characters, who would they be?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Marvel’s Inhumans—I’d love to write an arc for those characters someday; so Black Bolt and Medusa. I also used to daydream about a DC/Marvel crossover involving Phoenix (the full-on Jean Grey star-eating version) about to devour our sun—she’s too powerful for even Superman, so in the last doomed days of existence, Superman and Wonder Woman fall in love and have a child…and their child, the most powerful creature to ever exist, fights Phoenix. Phoenix wins, but is driven off—and the child of Superman and Wonder Woman, gruesomely disfigured in the catastrophic battle, turns evil and becomes the Overlord of Earth.
What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?
Growing up, my family had a very loyal (and very portly) German Shepherd named Bozworth. He was a good friend.