The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Charles Stross

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 Charles Stross, full-time science fiction writer and resident of Edinburgh, Scotland. The author of six Hugo-nominated novels and winner of the 2005 and 2010 Hugo awards for best novella, he has won numerous other awards and been translated into at least 12 other languages. Book five in Stross’ Laundry Files series, The Rhesus Chart, is available now from Ace. You can also get Three Tales from the Laundry Files, a collection of short fiction set in the Laundry Files universe, from

Charlie is extremely specific about his favorite sandwich, which might be a bit of an acquired taste…

Describe your favorite place to read or write.

My office. Mostly because it’s set up for me to read/write in. It has just the right amount of distractions, but I can shut the world out and either curl up on the sofa with a laptop or go and read an ebook in my office chair while sitting at my desk. Oh, and background music on random, and a cat to keep me company.

It also has some disturbing creativity-stimulating accessories: A magic rainbow unicorn play-set (with interchangeable horns and impaleable victims—the yuppie, the new age woman, the mime). A collection of weird and unusual and mostly working computers, some of them dating back to the early 1980s. A signed print from “Questionable Content” by Jeph Jacques. And three different editions of the Necronomicon.

If you could choose your own personal theme music to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?

The “Happy Happy Joy Joy” song from Ren and Stimpy.

Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?

However batshit insane you think the military-industrial complex is today, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve researched cancelled nuclear weapons projects of the 1950s. (Dr. Strangelove was a much more understated satire than most people realize…)

Charles Stross The Rhesus ChartIf you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your latest book, who would it be?

Thomas Dolby. Because he’s all-around brilliant.

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

The fountain of youth. Thing is, once you achieve eternal youth, you’ve got more than enough time to get yourself to Mars and go looking for life! Whereas doing it the other way round doesn’t work as well…

What’s your favorite sandwich?

Polish rye/wholemeal loaf, spread thinly with butter, then thickly on one side with Marmite, and on the other with medium-mature Dutch Gouda cheese (that is, matured for 8-16 weeks). The sharpness and umami of the Marmite offsets the smooth cheese and sets off the sourness of the rye—a strong taste of childhood! Comfort food, in other words.

Failing that, you can’t go wrong with a bacon sarnie—Danish smoked bacon, grilled, served between slices of buttered Scottish white loaf (or, if you can get it, Jamaican bread).

If you could be incarnated as any historical figure, who would you like to be?

I wouldn’t. I am a lazy, cynical middle-aged guy who has long since come to the conclusion that most historical periods really sucked, for most people, most of the time. Who’d want to be a Roman emperor if they knew in advance that their wife would die giving birth to your seventh child (of the other six, only one survives to adulthood and he’s an untreatable—undiagnosable—psychotic), and they’d spend their final decades suffer from intestinal parasites, bad teeth, and an inoperable hernia before expiring in their late fifties? In most eras even the elite suffered from ailments that today we would consider quite shocking. Only since the latter half of the industrial revolution has everyday life become reasonably tolerable for most people. History is another country, and might be full of fascinating incidents and places to go visit—but as a destination for emigration it has some problems!

What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?

Teleport booths. Even though the TSA and Immigration and their equivalents would utterly screw us over when using them to cross borders.

Choose your preferred fictional vacation spot.

The Culture. (From Iain M. Banks’ novels.)

Battle to the death, which weapon do you choose: A) Phaser, B) Lightsaber, or C) Wand?

I’d choose a good pair of running shoes: I’m a coward, me. Failing that, if running wasn’t an option, I’d pick HMS Vanguard (Royal Navy Submarine S28, not one of the earlier battleships that bore the name). Why mess around with sidearms when you could bring sixteen Trident D5 thermonuclear missiles to the fight?

What’s the most embarrassing guilty pleasure you’ll admit to?

I have a low taste for urban fantasy and paranormal romance. (When I’m working I can’t read fiction that is too close to the stuff I write. Nor can I absorb deeply challenging or engaging books: it feels too like trying to relax from manual labour by going to the gym.)

Heroes vs. Villains—which are more fun to write?

Villains are vastly more fun to write! I don’t do villains often enough. There are two approaches: give them sympathetic, reasonable motivations for doing the most unspeakable things, or get inside heads that are interestingly broken.

I need to write more villains, actually.

List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.

  1. I work in multiple different styles and sub-genres: if you tried one of my books and it didn’t work for you, you might have a completely different experience with another one (as long as it’s not in-series with the one you bounced off).
  2. I have a warped sense of humor.
  3. I live in Scotland, which is most emphatically not in England, much less the United States. This has an effect on my writing: sometimes small, often large.


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