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 Rod Duncan, novelist, screenwriter, and proud dyslexic. The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, the first book in his Gas-Lit Empire series, is available now from Angry Robot. Find out more about the novel’s cover from designer Will Staehle, and join us below to learn which magic spell would be vital to Rod’s fighting style.
Battle to the death, which weapon do you choose: A) Phaser, B) Lightsaber, or C) Wand?
The phaser would be no match for the other two – assuming the Force was strong in me and I didn’t turn out to be a complete muggle. Wand would be my weapon of choice due to its supreme versatility. But I would want to find a spell that caused it to make the light saber noise. Ben Burtt, we salute you.
Do you have a favorite word?
My favorite will always be the one I have been researching most recently. Presently that is the word ‘Talisman’—an object charged with powers for the purpose of some specific magical objective. The word can be traced back to Arabic and Greek words meaning ‘the completion of a religious rite’.
If you could name a planet after anyone (other than yourself), who would you choose and why?
I’d like to name a planet after Mary Wollstonecraft. She does not get enough recognition, in my opinion. She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. Yet it is her daughter, Mary Shelley, who is better remembered. The only problem with my plan is that the name Wollstonecraft might be confusing. It sounds more like a type of spaceship than a planet.
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
Though other monsters would come to be more terrifying for me, memories of hiding behind the sofa as a child keep the Dalek in the number one spot.
Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?
Mortality is at once the curse and the blessing of humankind. For that reason, I would not want anyone to find the fountain of youth. The implication of finding life on Mars would be huge—even though you would in all likelihood need a microscope to see it. What I’d really like, though, would be to live long enough to see a mammoth cloned. Could I have that instead of the other two?
What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?
Teleport system. That way I could hop over to see my friends in Taiwan or my sister in Oregon and be back in time for tea. All with zero air miles.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
My father was a scientist and a science fiction fan. He used to buy Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Later it became Analog Science Fiction and Fact. The short stories he read to me were my introduction to the genre. The first ones I can remember were from I, Robot. When I did start to read—that came late for me—I immersed myself in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. And from there I went on to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast.
List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.
As a thought experiment, I reached back a couple of hundred years and made one small change in history. Then I worked it forwards to the present day to figure out what the implications could be. The strange world of The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter is the result.
Though set in the 21st Century, the world has a Victorian aesthetic. Conjuring and imagery from the Golden Age of stage magic feature prominently.
At first this seems to be a crime adventure. But the strange qualities of the alternate history bring two questions to the fore: what force has interrupted technological progress and how long can the tide of history be held back? The series title, The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire gives a clue as to where we are heading.
Which language, real or fictional, would you like the ability to speak fluently? Who would you talk to?
I am torn between Welsh, the language of my home nation, Mandarin Chinese, the language of a people and culture I feel a strong affinity for and Classical Arabic, a language of extraordinary literature, philosophy and scripture. Ultimately I am going to use this free pass to acquire fluency in Arabic, because I have the least chance of getting it any other way. That means taking a slower road with Welsh and Mandarin.
What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?
Roald Dahl’s retelling of the Three Little Pigs. Sadly, I can quote large chunks of it.