The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Max Gladstone

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 Max Gladstone, author of the Craft Sequence—books about the cutthroat world of international necromancy: wizards in pinstriped suits and gods with shareholders’ committees. Gladstone is a Campbell Award nominee for 2013. You can follow him on Twitter.

amazon buy full fathom five The third standalone novel in the Craft Sequence, Full Fathom Five, is available now from Tor Books. You can read an extended excerpt from the novel here on Tor.com, and check out Liz Bourke’s review.

Read on to find out about a rather odd buddy cop fan-fic pairing…

Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?

Tricky. I’d have to say the fountain of youth, and here’s why: the universe is a big place. There’s life out there somewhere. Living forever means you can go meet it in the flesh, without flummoxing about with FTL. Give me an e-reader full of books, a copy of the FATE Core rules, some friends, and a rocket ship, and I’m all set. Besides, if everyone lives forever, all of a sudden there’s real pressure to make spaceflight happen.

(I’m assuming that Fountain of Youth water is portable and of limitless supply, and also that it zeroes out cancer rates, since otherwise it’s more like the Fountain of Eventually You Get Cancer and Die. In which case FoY-water is evenbetter for space exploration, since it solves the radiation shielding problem. Nuclear drives for everyone!)

Full Fathom Five Max GladstoneStrangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?

While researching Full Fathom Five, I learned that there’s a blasted rocky region on Grand Cayman called Hell. It’s not an actual hellmouth, just a creepy geological formation, but still, it tickles me to know that Hell’s somewhere in the Cayman Islands. For a proper hellmouth, though, check out Derweze Crater in Turkmenistan—it’s a rocky pit that’s been on fire since 1971. At night it stains the horizon red.

Haven’t used that one in a book yet, but someday…

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?

Let’s first assume both sorcery and mad science work—if there’s no such thing as magic, then obviously you go to the wizard, who’s most likely a harmless eccentric with a predilection for outsider chemistry, obscure languages, and Extract of Newt. Some amphibians secrete antibiotics, I believe, so Extract of Newt may even be good for you in the long run! At any rate, Newt probably tastes something like snake, which I have eaten and is perfectly palatable. (Though I never tried extract of snake.) So long as the wizard doesn’t offer me natto, I’m fine.

If magic works—well, the question is, what can the mad scientist do to you that the wizard can’t, and vice versa. Both can kill you, obviously, employ horrendous instruments of torture, flense the flesh from your bones. What do they do differently?

Seems to me the big difference between traditional mad science and tower-wizardry lies in body horror. Mad scientists are more likely to pull a Cronenberg—chop bits off and graft strange things in their place, fuse your DNA with an insect’s, stitch you back to back with someone else. Wizards could do that, but they seem to like full-body transformation more: folks turn into toads, mules, eagles, et cetera. And they can change back! The choice seems clear to me—reversible sensoria shift all the way.

That’s not even mentioning the other key difference: let’s assume that the mad scientist’s madness leads him to be violently erratic, which does seem to be how the trope works in fiction. I have no control over this person’s reactions to me. The wizard, on the other hand, since she’s survived long enough to be powerful, is unlikely to have a habit of turning people into newts for no reason.

So, yeah. Wizard. Unless we’re talking about Doctor Frank-n-furter’s lab, here. That place rocks.

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

My first thought was, “James Randi, for sheer humor value,” but he’d probably debunk me.

Aside from that—man, if I’m a ghost and I can’t hang out with my wife all Swayze-esque, why focus on the living? I’ll see them sooner or later. It’s time to go bug Dumas for storytelling tips, or eavesdrop on an argument between George Elliot and David Foster Wallace. Watch the All-Globe All Stars play Macbeth. Hear Li Bai freestyle. Tell Mike Ford how much I liked The Final Reflection.

But that’s not the question you’re asking, I suppose. Um. Look, over there! Behind you! Oh my god, it’s the next question!

If you were secretly going to write fanfic (or, even better, slashfic) about any two characters, who would they be?

Buddy cop time travel (with possible romantic elements) starring Set from Creatures of Light and Darkness and the Shrike from the Hyperion Cantos. He’s a far future death-god master of temporal kung fu and is probably his own grandson! It’s a mind controlled time-traveling four-armed silver Cuisinart messenger of evil sentient pseudodeities fighting a battle against post-Omega Point God from the end of history! They fight crime! And maybe fall in wuv. Actually, maybe Steel General (also from CoL&D) / Shrike would work better—the Shrike’s more authoritarian (especially if you accept Endymion canon), while the Steel General’s an arch-revolutionary. Be a bit difficult to write dialogue, though, since the Shrike communicates exclusively through murder. Oh well. I’ll figure it out somehow.

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