The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Robert Jackson Bennett

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 Robert Jackson Bennett, author of American Elsewhere, The Troupe, The Company Man, and Mr. Shivers. His books have been awarded the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson, and the Philip K. Dick Citation of Excellence.

His latest, City of Stairs, is an atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city. The novel is available September 9th in the US (Crown Publishing) and October 2nd in the UK (Jo Fletcher Books). Read an excerpt here on, and check out the Rocket Talk podcast episode where Bennett discusses the future of genre fiction!

Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.

When I was 20 years old, a friend and I wound up drinking a handle of Jack Daniels in the middle of the day while watching a DVD of X-Men 2. Upon running out of Coke (the soda, not the drug, of course), we went out to purchase more, but somehow instead found ourselves fistfighting in the middle of an intersection in downtown traffic at around 4 p.m., much to the consternation of the motorists attempting to navigate home.

At some point I apparently fled the scene and lost my shoes, because I have blurry memories of sprinting through the nocturnal urban landscape (crashing through bushes, shrubs, etc.) and jumping fence after fence, barefoot, believing I was being pursued. (It is worth saying here that I have absolutely no concept of exactly where in this city this took place.) Anyway, at one point in time I tried to jump a wrought iron fence—the kind with points at the top—but one of the points snagged my back pocket, and I was stuck dangling there, literally hanging by my ass from what I assume was about a 9-foot high fence. Rather than reaching behind me and dexterously removing myself from the fence, I instead began to buck back and forth, and succeeded in completely ripping the ass out of my pants, creating something much like the butt flap old pioneers had installed in their long johns, and crashed to the ground in a heap.

I awoke at dawn, sleeping on a bus stop bench, clutching my wallet, keys, and watch, missing the ass of my pants, covered in scratches and bruises, and barefoot with hairline fractures in both heels.

It was perhaps the most educational event of my young adult life.

Robert Jackson Bennett City of StairsIf you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your new book, who would it be?

I’m going to be a super hipster here and say Arcade Fire. Primarily because I think of their song “Intervention”as capturing the feeling I wish to inspire at the end of City of Stairs, a sensation of joyful defiance, of rebellious optimism.

Also, the soundtrack they did for the film Her was beautiful to the point of being ludicrous, so.

Gideon Smith amazon buy linkWhat’s your favorite sandwich?

The banh mi. I feel like the banh mi might have inspired the whole of the current Asian fusion trend. It captures the best of Vietnamese cooking and French cuisine, and you can hold it in one hand.

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

Without a doubt, mine would be the song “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora, better known as the Cool Mint Listerine song from 1993.

Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.

Monstro, from Pinocchio. He’s Cthulhu for kids, the unbeatable force of nature.

You can’t fight him. You just get out of his way.

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

Probably the electric cars from Gattaca. I mean, sure, we have some now, but they’re a whole lot more badass and prevalent in Gattaca. It’s a mundane but revolutionary choice.

I could also go for the massive solar plants in Gattaca. And the dedication to space exploration in Gattaca. Also the clothing and architecture in Gattaca.

I could live in Gattaca, is what I’m saying here.

What would your Patronus/familiar be?

A male mallard duck with a trucker’s hat.

Robert Jackson Bennett City of StairsChoose your dream cast for a Hollywood adaptation of your new book.

I tend not to dabble in this—I don’t like to inform the reader’s vision of my characters—but whenever I show someone this gif of Mads Mikkelsen, there is an almost spiritual understanding that this is Sigrud.

Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?

After World War II, Warsaw went to great lengths to restore its “Old Town,” a quaint historic district that was razed by the Germans, along with most of the rest of Warsaw. They (and it is worth remembering here that at this point, Poland was part of the Soviet bloc) went to great lengths to preserve its authenticity, even building special kilns to fire bricks in the manner that was used when Old Town was first built in the 18th century.

When Old Town was revealed, people commended their work… but noticed it wasn’t quite the same.

For one thing, the Soviets had rebuilt Old Town based off of paintings from the 18th century. But the artist who painted them tended to “improve” the cityscapes, casually adding a story here, maybe sticking a new building there. So it seemed that the Soviets had built Old Town based off of a faulty sense of reality.

But more so, this was the Soviets that we’re talking about, so the inside of the buildings was old-school Soviet bloc architecture, drab apartments and offices that had absolutely no relation to the historical nature of the buildings.

It was authentic purely in the most superficial meaning. It is worth remembering, I think, that any attempt to produce “authenticity” in any medium will likely have the same results.


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