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 Desirina Boskovich, a science fiction and fantasy author whose influences include cyberpunk, magic realism, the weird, and postmodern metafiction (the kind with footnotes, parentheticals and smart-ass remarks). Her work has been published in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Nightmare, among others. Desirina is also the co-author (along with Jeff VanderMeer) of The Steampunk User’s Manual—a conceptual how-to guide available now from Abrams Image.
Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.
When I was about eight years old my parents decided it would be a good idea to enroll me in wool-spinning lessons. This was in rural Oregon where I guess it was slightly more convenient to regularly procure lengthy blobs of freshly sheared wool. About once a week I’d wander off to a kindly neighbor’s house for lessons. I believe my parents might have instructed her to keep her pagan philosophy to herself during our lessons and focus solely on the wool-spinning essentials, you know, the practical stuff. A spindle was involved, a la Sleeping Beauty, and I also learned to card the wool with these flat wire brushes, which is a lot like brushing a really long-haired, shaggy dog, except the dog isn’t involved. I think the neighbor might also have managed to subtly sneak in a few lessons in paganism, after all. Which is good, because I haven’t had much opportunity to use the wool stuff.
What is your favorite short story?
“Stone Animals” by Kelly Link.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
Grilled cheese, hands down. In its simplest form, it’s pretty much perfection already. Then at the same time it’s this flexible template that invites bold and imaginative experimentation, from Kraft Singles on Wonder Bread to havarti on whole wheat to gorgonzola and brie on cinnamon raisin. And that’s not even getting into other additions like caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, a crispy slice of pear. Basically the grilled cheese contains multitudes, is all I’m saying. I know this answer is probably cheating.
What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?
Everyday teleportation, or wormhole-based public transit. (I’m currently writing from Springfield, Missouri, so clearly I’ve thought about this a lot.) It would change everything in the world forever, it would solve all my problems, and best of all, it would make overpriced real estate completely obsolete.
If you could design a line of clothing/accessories based on your favorite fictional character, what would it look like?
I’ve actually been sitting on this one since I was seventeen, so I’m glad you asked. My style icon has always been Cayce Pollard, the cool-hunting heroine of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. While her career depends on sniffing out the trend of the moment, in her personal life she has this odd sort of allergy that manifests as a complete and total aversion to anything “branded.” As Gibson describes it, Cayce’s clothes are…
“black, white, or gray, and ideally seem to have come into this world without human intervention.?? What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion. This has resulted in a remorseless paring-down of what she can and will wear. She is, literally, allergic to fashion. She can only tolerate things that could have been worn, to a general lack of comment, during any year between 1945 and 2000.”
I read that in 2003 and basically just lost it. (I was in college, it was a strange time.) I sorted my dresser into stacks of color-coded neutrals, which helped me dress more quickly in the mornings because I could keep my outfits perfectly monochromatic as long as I only opened one drawer. I think the appeal was not just the ecstasy of anti-fashion, as I imagined at the time, but also a science fiction heroine modeling a truly androgynous look. At that point I don’t think I’d ever heard the phrase “gender presentation,” and I did not yet have the language to explain that I did not actually love looking sloppy all the time, I just felt deeply, indescribably uncomfortable wearing pretty clothes. And Cayce Pollard helped me push back against that for the first time.
Of course, I never had the money to buy the kind of perfectly made and perfectly neutral clothing that I really dream about. But I want that clothing line, and I want it now.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
The Chronicles of Narnia. I read these first at age six, and again and again throughout childhood. I loved the characters, the hilarious animals, and the sublime wonder of the unnatural landscapes. I loved the symbolism and the allegory and how I understood more of it every time I read. Most of all I loved the idea of the magic portal into an alternate world. I used to think that I was a teenager before I stopped looking for it. Now I realize that actually, I never stopped looking for it.
I loved Dawn Treader so much, I accidentally left it in the park where it got destroyed, leaving our set incomplete. Eventually my younger siblings destroyed all the rest of the volumes too. Now, every time I visit a bookstore with really vintage and well-used books, I look for those same paperbacks I had as a kid, with the distinctive Roger Hane cover art. I’m collecting them, slowly; maybe one day I’ll stumble my way back into a full set.
I realize now that these books are problematic in some ways, but I will always love them for making me love fantasy and making me the person I am today.
Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.
See, the thing about most monsters is most of them are not that scary. They’re just scales, teeth, legs, and special effects. Their only real power is brute force, so the violence they exert is a simple one. Real horror is deeply psychological and comes from the fear we have of other people, of ourselves, of truths about the world we don’t want to face. (For one example, see It: Pennywise the Clown is fucking terrifying and that TV mini-series seems to have seriously traumatized an entire generation of children. Then when you get to the part where they’re fighting the true monster, it’s just a big gross carapace-covered spider-thing that someone needs to squash. It’s not scary at all.)
So when I’m thinking of my top monsters (and Pennywise is definitely among them), I want something that’s more psychologically unsettling, rather than red in tooth and claw. And that’s why I’m going to have to say the Silence from Doctor Who. They exert an uncanny power of amnesia on anyone who sees them, so you only remember that they exist while you’re looking directly at one. They’re everywhere, present but unacknowledged, seen but unremembered, slowly and patiently shaping history. There could be one standing behind me right now and I’ll never know. And that’s far more frightening to me than any other Whovian monster, because it unravels the whole thread of reality and taps into this deep dread about being utterly vulnerable when you think you’re in control.
Having finally established communication with a distant alien species, what’s the first thing that we should tell them about Earth/humans?
Based on the available evidence, I’m guessing a sincere apology is probably going to be in order.
What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?
A really smart penguin, with a little backpack, so I can send it on errands. But don’t tell my dogs that.