The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Jack McDevitt

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 Jack McDevitt, a former naval officer, taxi driver, English teacher, customs officer, and motivational trainer, and is now a full-time writer. His novel Seeker won a Nebula Award, and he is a multiple Nebula Award finalist. His latest novel, Coming Home, is the seventh book in his Alex Benedict series—available now from Ace!

Join us to read about Jack’s near-miss with American royalty!

Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.

I was once invited to attend a private dinner for Senator John F. Kennedy. But it was a Saturday evening and I passed. Had better things to do.

I was at LaSalle College, and working 38 hours a week in a supermarket. Just didn’t have much spare time. The LaSalle newspaper, which let me write a sports column, was in 1957 giving Kennedy a literary award for Profiles in Courage. The other major candidate had been Walt Kelly, for Pogo. Kelly had gotten my vote. Had he won, I’d have been there, but Kennedy, in 1958, was only a politician I’d barely heard of.

What is your favorite short story?

My favorite story is James Thurber’s “The Greatest Man in the World.” Favorite SF story is Arthur Clarke’s “The Star.” Or if we went for a collection, it would be Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

Jack McDevitt Coming HomeChoose your dream cast for a Hollywood adaptation of your new book.

I’d like to see either Alec Baldwin or Denzel Washington as Alex. (Might be a problem there because individual races don’t exist anymore in Alex’s era. Too much intermarriage over thousands of years.) Catherine Bell would make a perfect Chase Kolpath.

If you could choose your own personal theme music to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?

It would be a tossup between “Ride of the Valkyries” and “Chopsticks.”

What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?

My father used to take me to the movies on Saturdays. In 1940, when I was four years old, we encountered Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. I loved it. Especially the rocket ship, which I later realized had no airlock and no washroom. But they managed to get to Mongo with it. The down side was that Flash and his friends spent all their time fighting with Ming the Merciless. The rocket ship was the heart of the serial, though. I never recovered from it.

I remember coming out of the theater one night after an episode, and a full moon was floating up over the rooftops. I asked my Dad if we’d ever get to the Moon? He said no. “It’s too far.” He was born before the Wright Brothers flew, and he lived to see the moon flight happen.

Having finally established communication with a distant alien species, what’s the first thing that we should tell them about Earth/humans?

We would want to let them know what’s important to us. Best probably would be a recipe for pizza.

List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.

1) I’ve tried to quit writing several times, but I enjoy it too much.

2) I don’t care for mysteries that are nothing more than working out who committed the crime? Mysteries that present an event that should not be possible (like Gilbert Chesterton’s invisible man who walks right by police) are much more intriguing.

3) Thanks to the comic book publishers. Batman and Captain Marvel were responsible for my learning to read at least a year before I showed up at school. They got me interested in writing. Started my first novel at about eight. The title: The Canals of Mars.

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

This is an easy one: It would be The Lost Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Conan Doyle. Doyle kept trying to unload Holmes, and insisted that he wanted to be remembered for his serious work. Good luck with that.

I’ve never been angrier with an author than I was with Doyle the night in 1955 when I finished “His Last Bow.” And knew there were no more.

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