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 David Peterson, who holds an M.A. in linguistics from UC San Diego. He’s been creating languages since 2000, and is one of the founders of the Language Creation Society. Perhaps his best known work is with HBO’s Game of Thrones, where he developed the Dothraki language—which fans can now learn with Living Language Dothraki, a guide available from Diversified Publishing. David has also helped create languages for Syfy’s Defiance and Dominion, as well as the CW’s Star-Crossed.
Join us, and learn why cats are clearly the best animals on the planet!
If you could choose your own personal theme song to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?
Van Halen’s “5150.” You listen to that song and try not to get pumped!
Do you have a favorite underrated, unknown, or under-read author?
Underrated: Virginia Woolf. Unknown: Ivan Goncharov. Under-read: Joseph Heller.
A friend of mine, fellow conlanger Andrew Gerber, was serving in the Peace Corps in Mongolia for the past three years, so I would pick his brain for facts about Mongolian life when fleshing out the Dothraki language. From him I learned that the Mongolian language has two different words for animal dung: one if it’s fresh, and one if it’s dry. The distinction is crucial because you use dry animal dung as fuel for the fire inside one’s ger—crucial during the winter. Wet animal dung, of course, is something one ought not to handle. The distinction was borrowed into Dothraki: mhegga is dried animal dung and nicha is wet.
What literary or film science fiction technology do you wish existed in our world right now?
Transporters from Star Trek! It is my firm belief that world peace will follow the wide adoption of transporter technology. There’s a lot of space on this planet, and yet most of us live within arm’s length of each other. If anyone could live anywhere and still instantaneously appear anywhere else on the planet for work or leisure, we’d have no problems. I’m convinced of this! (I mean, provided there were sufficient back-up systems for transport so the signal wasn’t lost, and that transporters couldn’t be hacked so that people could warp into your home while you’re sleeping, etc.) Science needs to get on this.
If you had to choose one band or artist to provide the official soundtrack to your new book, who would it be?
Of course, if there was going to be a band to provide the soundtrack to Living Language Dothraki, it would be the pounding, horse-hoof rhythms of Iron Maiden. Ayyathas shiqeth! (Up the irons!)
Which language, real or fictional, would you like the ability to speak fluently? Who would you talk to?
I would speak any of the languages I’ve created for the shows I work on because then I wouldn’t have to use my dictionaries when translating. Things would go much quicker.
If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a non-living author, who would it be? Why?
Virginia Woolf. She’s the best writer, period. I wish we had mountains more from her.
Battle to the death, which weapon do you choose: A) Phaser, B) Lightsaber, or C) Wand?
Provided I knew how to use it (a key proviso), I’d choose the wand, because I could simply create the other two with the wand if I so desired—plus any number of other weapons I’d require. In fact, I’d use it to create a beast with a wand that would fight my opponent to the death—and a lounge chair from which I could view the festivities.
What’s your favorite sandwich?
All right, so this one time my wife and I were driving down the coast of California and we got the idea to stop at Hearst Castle. Deciding the tour would take too long, we thought we’d just get lunch. We waited in a long line to order paninis at the restaurant there. Having ordered them, we waited. They only had two panini presses and a line that was twenty people long. We waited some more. My wife got hers. Then the sandwich I ordered came up, but they called someone else’s name. Then it happened again. Then people who ordered after me started getting their sandwiches. I inquired, and the person working the counter said they never got the order. I showed them my receipt, and they said they’d make it. The guy I’d ordered from was hanging around the back laughing (I saw him!), and then he left out the back door. My wife finished her sandwich. 45 minutes later, they started to make my sandwich, and I was annoyed. When they finally called my name, I said to my wife, “This had better be the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my entire life or else.”
They got lucky.
What is your ideal pet (real or fictional)?
One could never engineer a more perfect being than a cat. The Egyptians understood this. They’ve got dogs beat on loyalty. And they’re so clean! Such delightful creatures. So fun to pet. And their fur is nice and soft, not coarse like a dog or hedgehog’s. They’re wonderful mathematicians, though people rarely take advantage of that fact (my elder cat does my taxes). If dressed appropriately, a cat can land any white collar job. They’re quite mannerly. I’ve learned much from observing them serve high tea. The elder cat always thanks me when I give her food before taking a single bite (the kitten has some things to learn, but he’s young yet). I personally believe cats would make excellent fighter pilots, but you know how the military bureaucracy is; it’ll never happen. They’ve long mastered sailing, as is well documented. And, most importantly, they despise cardboard, just like me. It fills me with delight to see them scratch up and otherwise do injury to cardboard. I feel privileged to live on a planet that cats also occupy. Seeing a cat unexpectedly is always the highlight of my day.