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 Nik Houser, an author whose work has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Best American Fantasy, and his mom’s refrigerator. He also writes and draws a weekly web comic called Gentleman Caveman, and he has recently tried his hand at stand-up comedy. Find him on Twitter.
Nik’s story “Son of Abyss” will be published in Monstrous Affections, an anthology edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, available September 9th from Candlewick Press. Get a better look at Yuko Shimizu’s cover art for the anthology as well as the full table of contents here on Tor.com.
Battle to the death, which weapon do you choose: A) Phaser, B) Lightsaber, or C) Wand?
First of all, real men fight to the pain! But I digress. Considering the physicality of the question, the lightsaber is obviously the least practical choice given its range and the skill level necessitated to operate it on a practical level against a skilled combatant. And as far as expertise is concerned, the wand presumably requires years of discipline to master in the academic world, let alone the experience required to attain the focus of mind necessary to cast spells in a combat situation. The phaser, on the other hand, offers the ergonomic benefit of merely pulling a trigger and the added benefit of needing little to no training to use it effectively at close range. That being said, unless you’re a trained sharp shooter, you’re more likely to miss a moving target. Plus, it’s effectively useless if your opponent isn’t standing directly in front of you, whereas a wand can offer the user a wider spectrum of attack choice. You could use your wand for something as simple as turning yourself invisible, or for something more grandiose and operatic like summoning an F-5 tornado to wipe out your enemy’s territory without ever having to face them in single combat. All that being said, a lightsaber is a motherfucking lightsaber, yo!
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
Unquestionably, the alien creatures from Alien. Not only do they just look so damn cool, but they come with the body horror element of the human host being incapacitated and violated by that spider thingy, which then lays a goddamn egg inside you. Equally fantastic and horrifying for me, of course, is the strong foundation of mother/birth imagery seeded (ha, see what I did there?) throughout the mythology, which is so insidious in its own right. The mother is sacred. The mother is lizard brain safety. The mother is inviolate. And then, all at once, when a human becomes impregnated with one of the creatures, the “mother” becomes not only the one violated, but also the genesis of future violation. Victim becomes mother becomes victim. Horrifying, just horrifying. And then there’s the Alien Queen, this primal twisted Gaia figure. The whole mythology is such a rich tapestry of physical and psychological horror. Plus acid for blood? Are you serious???!!!
What’s your favorite sandwich?
Sting from Dune and Salma Hayak from From Dusk Till Dawn are the bread. I’m the meat.
What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?
That machine in Bladerunner that lets Decker look around corners in pictures. Just because I wanna know: what the shit is that? Also, public transport by personal vacuum tube a la The Jetsons.
What would your Patronus/familiar be?
Hedonism Bot is my spirit animal.
If you could open a new shop in Diagon Alley, what would you sell?
I would open a medicinal marijuana dispensary. No question.
Hermione: “Harry, you’re acting funny. Is it your scar again?”
Harry: “Uh, yeah. My scar. That’s totally it. Also, how crazy is it that owls are our postal workers?” (Bursts out laughing.)
If you were secretly going to write fanfic (or, even better, slashfic) about any two characters, who would they be?
I want The Warriors to stumble upon Sesame Street during their wild midnight run to their home turf.
Also, Die Hard with Predator. “Yippee-ki-yay, you ugly motherfucker!” The movie writes itself people!
What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?
T2? A boy and his Terminator? It gets no better than that, friend. No better than that.
What makes a monster monstrous in the first place?
I’d say it bearing a resemblance to us. While Lovecraftian monsters of the unknowably cosmic kind are wonderful, and scary because they are unknowable, I think the closer a monster hews to human the more monstrous it is, because what is more horrifying than the monster within? The monster in any story is just our darkest inclinations, secrets, and desires made manifest. Which, I think, is why monsters who curse their own transformation are the most monstrous of all. Take Dracula or the Wolfman or Dennis Miller. While they are repelled by the horror—innate to not only themselves but to all people—which is drawn out of them and displayed to the world, they also revel in it. A perfect metaphor for an audience watching or reading horror.
What kinds of monsters were hiding under your bed as a child? What about now, as an adult?
I used to have a recurring dream that I was being chased. The dream ended the same way every time: I would run off a cliff, and as I fell I would look back at a masked figure (usually wearing a Star Wars storm trooper helmet, though my pursuer wasn’t actually a storm trooper) looking impassively down at me as I fell. I’d wake on impact. Never saw behind that mask.
As an adult, I’d have to say the specter of climate change. Sorry, boring but true.
If you could give a happy ending (i.e. one that doesn’t include their death at the hands of the hero) to any fictional monster, which would you choose? What new ending would you write for them?
[Dark Tower Spoiler Alert]
My favorite literary trope is redemption, so instead of the colossally disappointing death that befell The Man in Black in The Dark Tower (look, I love Stephen King and I love 90% of The Dark Tower, ESPECIALLY the Coda, but come on), I’d have him, bitter from being crushed and used and tossed aside by the Crimson King, team up with Roland to defeat The Crimson King but then afterward Roland is just like “I’m still gonna waste you, sucka” and BLAM! (Yes, I love talking about literary figures like they’re action figures). Or something, I don’t know. Anything besides what actually happens to The Man in Black in the book would be a happy ending by comparison. My happy ending for the Crimson King would be to write him out of the book entirely, though that would technically qualify as a happy ending for the reader. Argh, I’m such a jerk! I’m sorry! I just love The Dark Tower so much, Book 7 is my Phantom Menace! Except for Father Callahan’s part, which soooo just right.
I also think it would be hilarious if the presence haunting The Overlook Hotel in The Shining survived and ended up haunting a Cafe Gratitude, a famous vegan West Coast restaurant. It would be its version of Hell.