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 award-winning author and science communicator, Craig Cormick. He has published over a dozen books—short story collections, novels and non-fiction—with both independent and mainstream publishers. Craig’s latest novel, The Shadow Master (published by Angry Robot), blends history with fantasy by pitting fictional versions of Leonardo and Galileo against each other. The result? Assassination; ancient, impossible machines; torture and infamy…
Join us for what might be the most heart-warming tale we’ve ever heard. It involves a schoolyard bully, a library, and a whole lot of cute.
What is your favorite short story?
It’s in a collection called Fishing the Sloe Black River, by the Irish author Column McCann. The story is about an old farmer who goes out onto his farm each morning to dig swans out of the mud by his dam and then, having cleaned and restored them to life, lets them swim on his damn. It takes a long time to realise that each swan represents a young person killed in the Irish Troubles. The imagery of the mud and the white swan feathers like angel wings and his incessant stoic need to do something to save them is sad and moving and funny and poignant and just plain awwwweeeesome.
Quick. On to the next question before I start tearing up just thinking about it.
What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?
Teleportation! I have travelled all around the world and to all seven continents—including Antarctica—and I still hate flying. I love travelling, but am not a great traveler. I know many journeys are about the trip, not the destination—yeah, yeah, yeah – but that line actually runs out of impact after your fifth or sixth 12-hour or more flight out of Australia.
I love being somewhere new, but don’t travel so well to get there. So any technology that let me jump from place to place would be tremendous.
Do you have a favorite phrase?
Before you criticize anyone, walk a mile in their shoes.—That way, when they hear your criticism, you’ll be a mile away. And you’ll have their shoes!
List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.
Here’s one that’s worth three: I am ‘genre challenged’. By that I mean I tend to just read things that I like and that I think are good, and I range a bit the same in my writing, and don’t get too distracted by what genre it might be. It could be romance or action or literary fiction or history or speculative fiction—but I just think of it as writing.
Having said that I do like to play around with ‘forms’ such as blending history and fantasy and so on, as I’ve done it my book The Shadow Master, basing it quite closely on historical figures and actual events and leading families of Florence like the Medicis, and then making science work like magic in the story.
I know some readers get a bit critical when you diverge off the expected genre path, but I find it makes for a much more interesting story and leads you into that part of the woods where the big bad wolf lurks. (And yes, I’d keep my teleportation device nearby, just in case)
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
Godzilla. You know the saying, if he didn’t really exist we’d have to invent him!
If you regenerated as a new Doctor, what would your signature outfit/accessory be?
Breasts! Isn’t it time for a woman doctor? Other than that, a very classy vest. I’m known for my vests. I have a dozen or more of them that I collect from places I visit. South America, Africa, Europe etc. I get teased at work to the point that one day everybody came into work wearing a vest. (None were as classy as mine though.) I have a favourite that is made up of different coloured leather pieces and I tell people it was assembled from endangered species just to see what reaction I get.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
At one stage I would have thought it would be through the back of a wardrobe to an ice kingdom, but in my last year of primary school (about 12 years old in Australia), I was down at our local library—which was about the size of big shipping container—and ran into the school bully in there. Me and my brother shrank away from him, but he was standing there with a book in his hands and said if we like books we really, really, really needed to read this book and he had taken it away on holidays at his uncle’s urging, and just couldn’t put it down.
This was really strange—because it was like here in the library he was a different person to the strutting tough boy at school. Like he was so different that he was sharing something very, very intimate with us. He pressed the book into me and my twin brother’s hands and told us we’d love it, giving us the briefest of outlines of the story.
We looked at the big heavy hardback book, that had obviously been very well read, and stared at the cover image, of this big ornate shape filled black with an eye in it.
‘It’s the ring,’ he said. ‘See. The eye is in the ring!’
The only downside to the story was that my brother claimed the book first and I had to wait until he had finished it, listening to his exclamations of wonder, until I was allowed into Middle-earth myself.
What kind of apocalypse (zombie, robot, environmental, etc.) is most compatible with your survival skills? And what kind of apocalypse would you like to avoid at all costs?
I want a zombie apocalypse like in Mars Attacks, where Hillbilly music played really loud makes their heads explode. That’s the type of zombie apocalypse I could survive.
Alternately I’d like a more benign zombie apocalypse than you normally see, where everybody’s brain has been destroyed by the need to acquire the latest consumer gadget or beauty product, and then convince everybody around them that they need them too, stumbling around the mall in ill-fitting clothes waving brands and gadgets at each other and trying to suck out people’s brains with them. I think I could survive that because I escape it every time I go shopping at our local mall.
Every other zombie apocalypse I’d recommend be avoided at all costs.
What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?
Peter Pan. I know it’s not an ‘actual’ fairy tale, but it does have a fairy in it. Hell, it even has a fairy tail in it. I love the way you think it might be a children’s story, but that’s only the top layer of paint, and the more you scrape away the deeper and darker it becomes. I spent a lot of time reading folk tales from different cultures and looking at Jung’s notions of universal consciousness, those parts of folk tales that seem to be universal across cultures, reflecting a part of our humanity in the telling—and Peter Pan seems to me a modern folk tale, reflecting many of the human issues of modern society: escapism, growing up, the wish for magic against the defeat of it, the dark element of Hook that chases us all etc… (Note to self: Damn, that’s a good notion. Use Peter Pan and Hook motifs in next book).