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 Peter Watts, a biologist and science fiction writer. His first book, Starfish, was a New York Times Notable Book, while his sixth, Blindsight—a philosophical rumination on the nature of consciousness with an unhealthy focus on space vampires—has become a core text in diverse undergraduate courses ranging from philosophy to neuropsych, and is rumored to have ended up in the occasional Real Neuro Lab. His latest novel, Echopraxia, is available now from Tor Books. Read an excerpt here on Tor.com!
What is your favorite short story?
Probably Tiptree Jr.’s “The Screwfly Solution.” Not the most lyrical prose on the planet, but the most profoundly passionate biology-based SF story I’ve ever read.
If you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your latest book, who would it be?
If defunct groups are fair game, maybe eighties-era The Church. Sticking to contemporaries, Trent Reznor.
Do you have a favorite phrase?
“Darwin’s Universe.” Some people out there would say it was benthic or detritus, but don’t listen to them.
The eponymous Thing, from John Carpenter’s 1982 film. Now there’s a thinking creature.
Battle to the death, which weapon do you choose: A) Phaser, B) Lightsaber, or C) Wand?
Phaser. Longer range, variable settings. Wands? Don’t make me laugh. Wands are phasers for people who believe in faith-healing.
Do you have a favorite under-read author?
David Nickle. I’d go into more detail, but I already did that in my introduction to his latest collection (Knife Fight) and I want to force you to buy it.
What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?
1986. Built it from scratch. The head was handcrafted papier mâché, the cranialand adjunct ridges were segments of grooved pvc pipe. The dorsal spines were Styrofoam reinforced with coat-hanger wire and studded with 3″ nails. The projectile pharynx was a piece of vacuum-cleaner hose with a set of novelty vampire-fangs on the end; it was spring-loaded with elastic bands so that when I pulled a trigger down my sleeve, it would shoot out and the teeth at the distal end would snap shut (they were anchored with twin lengths of monofilament just a wee bit shorter than the maximum pharyngeal extension). Slime was a glycerin/agar mix (I forget the proportions), dispensed through the mouth using a squeezebulb/aquarium-air-pump-hose arrangement.
I duct-taped all the parts to my naked body and had my date spray-paint me black all over, which worked well until 4am the following morning when I tried to take everything off. Even after an hour of scrubbing, blobettes of black paint stuck to the ends of all my body hairs like tiny Velcro hooks. Sweaters were especially bad. For the next three weeks, taking off a sweater was like ripping off a band-aid that covered my entire upper body. If there’d been any justice at all, UBC would have awarded me my doctorate on the strength of that costume. Fuckers made me do three years of field work instead.
These days you can probably buy a ready-made Giger-estate-approved facsimile off the shelf for a couple hundred bucks. Kids these days have it so easy.
If you could open a new shop in Diagon Alley, what would you sell?
David Hull’s Science as a Process. And Thomas Metzinger’s The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self.
And maybe Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudkowsky. If that’s not getting too meta.
What’s your favorite fairy tale, or fairy tale retelling?
The Gospel According to John. (I might have gone for the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, but it was too plausible.)
What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?
The question itself is unstable: my ideal pet would be sapient, and I wouldn’t treat any sapient being as a pet.
Which is, I suppose, why the neighborhood cats and raccoons walk all over me.