The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: David Barnett

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 an award-winning journalist and author David Barnett! David is the multimedia content manager of the Telegraph & Argus, the cultural reviewer for The Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, and has done features for the Independent and Wired.

His steampunk/Victoriana novel Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl and its sequel, Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, are both available from Tor Books. Read excerpts from Mechanical Girl and Brass Dragon here on

What is your favorite short story?

“Galactic Chest” by Clifford D Simak. It’s about a reporter investigating reports of gremlins and fairies in contemporary America. It’s such a hopeful, whimsical, optimistic story, published in the mid-1950s at a time of international tension, that it can’t help but make me smile.

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical GirlDescribe your favorite place to write.

I can write, like I can sleep, anywhere. Generally with a laptop jostling for space with a cat on my knee, with the TV on and people wandering in and out of the room or talking to me. I’m really good at switching off external noises and sights and just powering on, no matter what else is going on around me. Generally, though, in a bid to present a semblance of sociability with my family, I write after everyone else has gone to bed with the TV turned down.

If you could choose your own Gideon Smith amazon buy linkpersonal theme music/song to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?

“20th Century Boy” by T-Rex, or maybe something bouncy by the Pogues. Or, if I was feeling particularly pompous, something by Yes—“Going for the One,” maybe.

If you regenerated as a new Doctor, what would your signature outfit/accessory be?

I would bust the BBC’s wardrobe budget by going for an Armani suit, some Italian leather shoes, a Crombie coat and a nice Thomas Pink shirt. Either that or a clown outfit.

Do you have a favorite unknown author?

Yeah, but I can never remember his name and his books are in the black hole of my loft. Seriously! He wrote a book about a couple who move in next door to a guy who may or may not be a vampire, and there was another novel about some soldiers who were garrisoned in Villa Diodati on the banks of Lake Geneva, where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. If they ring any bells with anyone I’d love to remember the author’s name.

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

I would rely on my wit and charm to get me out of any battle-to-the-death situation.

Do you have a favorite word?

Yes, but there might be children reading.

What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?

We’re a bit weird on Halloween in the UK. We don’t embrace the dressing up side as much as you do in the US, or at least, we didn’t until recently. We’re a bit more self-conscious about it. My kids are more into it, though, and to accompany them trick or treating last year I wrapped two toilet rolls around myself and went as a mummy. Needless to say, they were mortally embarrassed and the street was covered in mulched up toilet roll for weeks.

Gideon Smith and the Brass DragonIf you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your new book, who would it be?

While I was writing the Gideon Smith stories—which are, of course, set in an alternative 1890s—I always thought it would be cool to have the book soundtracked using modern and semi-modern (remember, I’m an old fart) pop songs, but played by a Victorian music hall band. For example, when Gideon and co. meet the Queen in book one we could have a music hall version of “Victoria” by The Kinks, and during the Gideon Smith amazon buy linkattack on the Alamo in book 2, something by Bon Jovi, “Blaze of Glory” maybe.

If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a non-living author, who would it be? Why?

I think it would be the novel Jack Kerouac never wrote, which was the real story behind the events he later made a much more mundane account of in On The Road. During early 1949, when he travelled across America with Neal Cassady and the gang they called in on William S Burroughs in Algiers, Louisiana. The real reason for that visit was that Burroughs had gotten wind of an extra-dimensional invasion and it was down to the Beats to repel it because no-one would believe Burroughs. That’s the book I want to read. Damn, now that’s the book I want to write. It would be a Beatnik B-Movie on Benzedrine with Bug-Eyed Monsters.


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