The “Tor Books class of 2015” (a.k.a. Tor Books’ next generation of debut authors) took to the stage at this year’s BookExpo America to talk about their forthcoming books. In keeping things college-themed, moderator John “Principal” Scalzi asked each panelist a series of Would You Rather questions—all about shadowy cabals, magical music, and sentient animals, of course.
Seth Dickinson, Ilana C. Myer, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Fran Wilde gamely played along with the Would You Rather shenanigans. The moral and ethical dilemmas that ensued were a great way to get to know each author, as well as their predilections when it comes to cats versus dogs, earworms, and their preferred methods for stirring the pot when it comes to rebellion. Each author got Would You Rather questions related to his/her book, but all of the panelists were allowed to throw in their own answers. And at the end, they took this cute class photo (via Wilde’s Twitter)!
Seth Dickinson (The Traitor Baru Cormorant)
Dickinson said that he likes to pitch his novel as “Gone Girl meets Guns, Germs, and Steel“: After watching her island nation get taken over by the Empire of Masks, Baru Cormorant sets out on a long game of vengeance that has her infiltrating the Empire from the inside. Dickinson utilized his history in social psychology for playing Would You Rather, especially when it came to the kinds of answers people would and wouldn’t expect from him. He also proved himself to be an evil mastermind.
Would you rather… be a member of an open rebellion or a member of a shadowy cabal?
Dickinson: “This isn’t even hard. Shadowy cabal all the way, all day. Open rebellion marks you as a target, shadowy cabal allows you to leverage the structural forces around you.”
Would you rather… be a behind-the-scenes mastermind or a secretive ninja assassin?
Dickinson: “I gotta go with behind-the-scenes mastermind, because the ninja assassins work for you, which is a lot safer.” When Scalzi challenged his decision because ninjas are sexier, he responded, “You gotta make the safe decisions, every time. Forgo the sex appeal.”
If you were all for open rebellion, would you rather… be on the front lines fomenting the revolution, or a member of the propaganda core?
Dickinson: “Front lines, no question. The reason is, my responses have become predictable. And if you become predictable, you get beaten.”
Would you rather… overthrow Emperor Palpatine or Ming the Merciless?
Dickinson: “Palpatine. He has an apprenticeship program, and I think that’s a really valuable way to develop the next generation of overlords.” When challenged on his answer, he left us all with some deep thoughts: “If you are given an empire-building apparatus, can you resist the desire to use it? I think that’s the core problem with this whole problem. If you use the tools to dismantle the Empire, you’re still left with Imperial tools.”
Ilana C. Myer (Last Song Before Night)
Myer’s book, she explained, is “set in a world where art and magic are intertwined, and the protagonists are poets—a kind of combination of Celtic poets, because that mythology really spoke to me, and troubadours.”
Would you rather… write the music or the lyrics?
Myer: “I have to admit, this is an easy one because I’m a writer, and the lyrics are what I actually wrote in the book. The music is left to your imagination.” She clarified, “I did have a tune in my head, but it’s really just mine, and I’m happy for the reader to do whatever they want with it.”
Would you rather… be the indie cult favorite or the glitzy glam sensation?
Myer: “This is a tough one, because being a glitzy glam sensation would be so good for my ego, but I feel more comfortable somehow being the indie cult favorite. That just feels more appropriate.” When Scalzi pointed out her glittery eyeshadow, Myer conceded, “At heart, I would love to be the glitzy glam sensation.”
Would you rather… write the mighty magical symphony or the perfect three-minute pop song?
Myer: “I don’t understand, how is this a question? The magical symphony just sounds so cool, how can I not go with that?”
Would you rather… co-write a song with B.B. King or Carole King?
Myer: “I think I have to go with B.B. King. I think we’d harmonize better.”
Lawrence M. Schoen (Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard)
“Barsk is about a lot of things,” Schoen said. “Anthropomorphic animals in space, tolerance, talking to the dead, prophecy… but mostly about elephants in space.” A former professor of cognitive psychology, and the founder and director of the Klingon Language Institute, he answered a variety of Would You Rather dilemmas ranging from existential crises about fate to death and pudding.
Would you rather… give sentience to a dog or a cat?
Schoen: “This is very easy. Definitely a dog. I like cats… but dogs are just so much better. Everything about them. I’m losing readers now!” Scalzi had to agree, despite being a self-described cat partisan: “They’re the best things in cat form, but they’re kinda sociopaths. You give them sentience, you’re gonna wake up one night, one of the cats is on your chest staring at you, it’s all over.”
If you could communicate with the dead, would you rather… speak to a famous person or to a relative?
Schoen: “I can’t use relatives who are famous people? I’d go with the famous person. Because I’ve probably already talked to the relatives in life. Which famous person? That’s a little harder. Right now I’d probably go with Milton Erickson, who was the foremost hypnotherapist in America.”
If you could glimpse the future, would you rather… know next year’s stock market numbers of your own fate?
Schoen: “I was gonna say it had to be the second one, because I don’t care about the stock market. But! Knowing the stock market would allow me to manipulate my own fate.” Not surprisingly, none of the authors wanted to know their own fate.
Would you rather… die in chocolate or butterscotch pudding?
Schoen: “Vanilla.” Scalzi: “That’s not an option.” Schoen: “Well, now I’m not gonna die.”
Would you rather… humans exist in the future but we never reach the stars, or that humans perish and hyperintelligent squids become interstellar travelers?
Schoen: “I’m gonna go for the squids, because who doesn’t love space squids? Cephalopods unite!”
Fran Wilde (Updraft)
Here’s how Wilde described her book: “Updraft is cities of living bone above the clouds, wings, secrets, flying, giant invisible carnivorous tentacled monsters.” Trained as a poet and programmer (“so I qualify for and own the t-shirt of code poet”), she’s now a full-time writer and technology consultant.She’s also fresh off fighting The Mountain to give her book back. During the panel, Wilde answered yes to both answers on most of the questions, cementing her status as class troublemaker. Though when it came to her own questions, she was better able to make up her mind.
Would you rather… fly an F-15 fighter or a hang glider?
Wilde: “Having seen Top Gun, we all know how that comes out. I’ll pick the hang glider.”
Would you rather… be flown to the moon (as in the song) or would you rather fly over the rainbow?
Wilde: “I would pick the rainbow because it goes better with ukuleles, and I’m partial.” Everyone else chose the moon, leaving Wilde alone over the rainbow, to which she declared, “All the gold belongs to me!”
Would you rather… be the hawk or the dove?
Wilde: “I would choose the hawk. I spent a lot of time watching birds fly, writing Updraft. And the hawks are, like many predators, incredibly lazy in their flight: They hold fixed-wing positions, and they soar. Not so for the doves; they’re constantly flying and looking for a place to rest.”
Would you rather… have the round-the-world ticket or a ticket to fly to a long-lost friend you haven’t seen in 20 years?
Wilde: “Evil question. Anybody who knows me knows I’m a big traveler, and I would absolutely pick the friend.”