The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Christopher Buehlman

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 Christopher Buehlman, a writer and performer based in St. Petersburg, Florida. He is the winner of the 2007 Bridport Prize in Poetry and a finalist for the 2008 Forward Prize for best poem (UK). In Buehlman’s latest novel, The Lesser Dead (available now from Penguin), vampires roam the subways in a gritty, 1970s New York.

Below, Buehlman proposes a tasty apocalypse we all can get behind. Join us!

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

The cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad was a masterpiece of stop-motion, child-frightening horror, brought to us courtesy of Ray Harryhausen, the Santa Claus of twentieth-century monster movies. This thing had goat legs, scaly shoulders, a horn on its head, and an unforgettably ooky, non-stop guttural roar that squirmed its way into your nightmares. If you tried to run, the cyclops would catch you and stamp you flat with a giant log. Throwing a spear at it just made it mad. Hiding in a building wouldn’t help-the cyclops would pull the damned roof off and yank you out like a sous-chef choosing a lobster from a tank. I’m clearly not the only one it became iconic for-the computer game Age of Mythology features exactly that monster as one of several mythological auxiliaries you can pick for your ancient Greek army.

What kind of apocalypse (zombie, robot, environmental, etc.) is most compatible with your survival skills? And what kind of apocalypse would you like to avoid at all costs?

At forty-five, I no longer have marketable post-apocalyptic survival skills. Oh, I’m a fair shot with pistol, shotgun or bow, I still have decent upper-body strength and, thanks to years of stage combat training, I know better than 99 out of 100 passers-by how to use a sword; but I run slowly, I’m too impatient to boil my drinking water and I’m terrible at fixing cars. Perhaps if there were a pizza apocalypse I could eat my way to safety.

The Lesser Dead Would you rather discover the fountain of youth or proof of life on Mars?

I think access to a fountain of youth would vastly increase my chances of finding out whether there was life on Mars, so I’ll have to pick A.

Choose your preferred fictional vacation spot.

The Game of Thrones world. I would have said “Westeros,” but I’d like to check out Braavos, Volantis, and Qarth as well. And, yes, I know it’s bleak and warlike, but it’s full of good food and wine and brothels, and, with Martin as God and author, you’ll never be burdened with hope that things will turn out all right.

What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?

A toilet-trained, flealess capuchin monkey that only bit such persons as I commanded it to. If it could also drive my car home when I became inebriated or intercede on my behalf with angry lovers, these things would endear it to me forever.

If you could be incarnated as any historical figure, who would you like to be?

Adolf Hitler; I would try a little harder in art school.

What’s the most embarrassing guilty pleasure you’ll admit to?

I love Every Which Way But Loose a 1978 dog of a romantic comedy action movie starring Clint Eastwood as a bare-knuckle fighter and Ruth Gordon as his shotgun-wielding, potty-mouthed mom. An Orangutan named Clyde makes obscene gestures and cockblocks his companions in between country western ballads while Eastwood follows a tone-deaf honky-tonk femme fatale singer across the Western US. Oh, and there’s a hard-luck biker gang and a pair of rotten cops that follow the protagonist and his ape around seemingly just to see how often and how badly they can be beaten up. Sounds like a waterfall of suck, right? It is, but I saw it with my dad when I was nine, and the sound of him laughing next to me trumps considerations like narrative structure and good singing. I think I just talked myself into watching it again tonight.

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

Supposedly poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe wrote an ‘Atheistic lecture’ which he presented in the company of Sir Walter Raleigh and others. Given Marlowe’s exhaustive religious training in Divinity, his mastery of rhetoric, his caustic sense of humor, his irreverence, and his unwillingness to suffer fools, I’m sure this would have been a highly entertaining read, something like Oscar Wilde meets Christopher Hitchens, with just a splash of Ovid. Of course, this document, if it existed, was probably destroyed by or hidden from the Puritans who came to power under Cromwell in a sort of drab explosion of chastity and boorishness. What a joyful thing it would be if some developer turned up a trunk of Marlowe’s work in some muddy field in Kent. How delicious it would be if the arrogant, homosexual author of The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus and Edward II found his voice again despite the best efforts to suppress and silence it.

Which language, real or fictional, would you like the ability to speak fluently? Who would you talk to?

I would love to know what Neanderthal language sounded like. I would love to sit around a fire with four or five of the big, ginger bastards and talk about hunting, fishing, Cro-Magnon incursions, and whether or not the wolf could be domesticated. I would love to know if they had yet discovered how to ferment grapes or honey and, if not, I would be delighted to show them.


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