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 Alan Gratz, author of Samurai Shortstop, an ALA 2007 Top Ten Book for Young Adults. His latest book, The League of Seven, begins a new action-packed, steampunk series for middle grade readers—available now from Starscape. Read an excerpt here on Tor.com, and check out Alan’s thoughts on the cover, illustrated by Brett Helquist. (Spoiler: he loves it!) Alan also gives us a brief history lesson on New York City’s pneumatic postal system! And be sure to read “The Hero of Five Points,” a Tor.com Original story set in the world of The League of Seven.
What’s your favorite short story?
Probably A Study in Emerald, Neil Gaiman’s Sherlock Holmes/Lovecraft Mythos mash-up. I just think it’s marvelously clever. And that twist at the end! Brilliant. I have an audio recording of Gaiman reading that story, and I play it on longish drives once or twice a year.
If you regenerated as a new Doctor, what would your signature outfit/accessory be?
My eleven year old daughter made a “Lady Doctor” costume for herself, and gave herself steampunk-looking rocket boots. I’d wear a kilt and a bowler hat and carry a pocket watch. (Which is kind of how I dress already.)
Who’s your favorite unknown author?
My favorite old school author nobody’s (usually) ever heard of is Clifford Simak. The guy won three Hugos in his lifetime, but he’s not read much today. He wrote what he himself called “pastoral” science fiction, which was more concerned with individual people’s places in the greater universe than it was with galactic politics or interstellar wars. If you haven’t read it, Clifford Simak’s City is pretty amazing.
Among contemporary authors, a writer who is very popular among kids in the UK but almost unheard of here in America is Philip Reeve. In particular, I love his Mortal Engines Quartet, in which the post-apocalyptic cities of Europe move around on giant treads trying to capture and consume each other in what’s known as Municipal Darwinism. Terrific stuff.
You wake up tomorrow morning as the antagonist in your book. What do you do to change the ending for yourself?
The bad guy in The League of Seven is Thomas Edison, and since (SPOILER!) he ends up as a brain in a jar by the third act, I’d definitely do whatever I could to avoid that! He gets into trouble trying to get back something he needs to raise a Mangleborn—a giant monster ala Cthulhu. That always seems to be the downfall of enthralled villains, doesn’t it? This slavish devotion to raising a bigger bad. So I definitely think I’d design a tin hat for myself like Nikola Tesla does in the book, break the connection with the giant monster, and go back to inventing the light bulb.
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
Tie: The original Godzilla and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?
I’ve worn a lot of cool costumes as an adult cosplayer: Jack Knight from Starman, Aku from Samurai Jack, Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro, Space Ghost, Sirius Black. But for all-time kid-coolness, nothing will ever beat my robot costume when I was in grade school. I spray-painted a cardboard box silver, cut squares to see out of and covered them with translucent colored plastic from school report covers, and added drier hose to cover my arms. But the pièce de résistance was the slot I cut in the front that opened and closed for people to feed the Halloween candy directly inside, where it slid into a bag attached to the inside of the box.
What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?
Easy: Star Trek’s teleporter. TNG’s replicator would probably be the more conscientious choice (you know, feeding the world and all that), but selfishly I’d really love to never have to drive or fly anywhere ever again. Energize!
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy as a child or young adult?
It’s cliché to say it, I know, but I was five years old when Star Wars hit theaters in 1977, and its effect on my life was seismic. I cannot tell you how many times I saw it and its sequels in theaters, because I never bothered to count. My mom would drop me off at the movie theater beside the mall (it was a kinder, gentler time) and I would disappear into that galaxy far, far away again and again, memorizing every alien, every space ship, every line, every scene. Then I’d come home and play with my Star Wars action figures or pretend to be Luke Skywalker in the back yard, making up my own stories. Star Wars was seriously my gateway drug to all things science fiction, and made me want to be a storyteller when I grew up.
Name your three favorite fictional villains of all time.
Mr. Freeze from Batman: The Animated Series. Awesome, tragic, and, dare I say it? Very cool.
Khan Noonien Singh from Space Seed and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Revenge is a dish that is best served cold. (Old Klingon Proverb)
Hans Gruber from Die Hard. I love that all he’s really after, in the end, is money. Which makes him the smartest villain of all time. Yippee ki yay, Alan Rickman.
List three things you’d like readers to know about you and your work.
My book has rayguns, airships, and giant monsters. ’Nuff said.