Tor: The Next Generation stormed New York Comic-Con this year! John Scalzi moderated a lively panel featuring Tor authors Fran Wilde (Updraft), Lawrence Schoen (Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard), Seth Dickinson (The Traitor Baru Cormorant) and Ilana C. Myer (Last Song Before Night). Scalzi opened the panel by warning that author panels “have the potential to be awful and boring” so he’s turned the whole ordeal into a game of Would You Rather! The panel revealed many important truth, chief among them that Seth Dickinson is a modern military genius, and that, no matter the odds against her, Fran Wilde will find a way to game the system. Check the panel highlights out below!
So for anyone out there who doesn’t know the game “Would You Rather” – you have to ask a simple question, say, “Would you rather drink Coke or Pepsi?” with your preference. (Pepsi.) Except, when John Scalzi plays it with these authors, the questions seem to involve bones, supervillainy, and cephalopods more often than is strictly normal. Scalzi assured us the game would be fun because “They’re all wonderful people, except for Lawrence” and started with a few easy practice questions.
Would you rather be…Jedi or Sith?
A show of hands in the audience showed a pretty even split, but in my row? I was surrounded by Sith Lords. Terrifying.
Would you rather… Rock ‘n’ roll all night, or party every day?
Myer: Rock ‘n’ roll all night
Dickinson: Party every day
Schoen: Party every day
Wilde: Party every day
Next Scalzi broke out the tough questions, which had been compiled by him and Tor’s publicity team. Things got real. He started with Seth Dickinson, as he learned in their last panel together that Mr. Dickinson has a “byzantine and Machiavellian intelligence” so it was probably best to get him out of the way early. First Seth described his book, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, as “Game of Thrones meets Guns, Germs, and Steel.”
Would you rather be guided by …Sun Tzu or Carl von Clausewitz?
Dickinson: Everyone’s read Sun Tzu, so, he’s too predictable at this point. So kalugwwitz, it is!
Scalzi: But he doesn’t line up with your main character’s political philosophy…
Dickinson: Her philosophy is winning.
Myer, Wilde, and Schoen all choose Sun Tzu.
Dickinson: See? Proves my point.
Would you rather… have orcs or flying monkeys for Minions?
Dickinson: Great question.
Scalzi: Yes. You know, I write for a living.
Dickinson: Monkeys, are very versatile, but hard to control…but… monkeys. Orcs have a bigger footprint, they eat everything. And I don’t want to rule over bare rock.
Scalzi: So, you’re choosing Flying Monkeys from an ecological stand point.
Monkeys win in a landslide, but then Lawrence Schoen has a question: are we talking about Sauron’s orcs, or Saruman’s orcs?
Scalzi: That’s a wonderful question. OK, next question!
When it comes to weaponry, would you rather…the gun? Or the printing press?
Dickinson: Printing press. You can use it to reach a lot of the people who have guns.
All three authors vote printing press!
Wilde: “You can also crush people with it!”
Then Dickinson chimes in to tell us that “the printing press led to the development of glasses, because people didn’t realize they were nearsighted until they started to read, and this in turn led to the development of optics. Pretty cool, huh?”
Next it was Fran Wilde’s turn. First, she asked if the authors were also getting sorted into Hogwarts Houses this time, so Scalzi obliged her, declaring her an “Evil Hufflepuff.”
She describes her novel, Updraft, as a political novel hidden in an action adventure novel.
Would you rather… go skydiving or bungee jumping?
Wilde: I would rather be attached to something when I leap to my death, so bungee jumping. Then they can pull my body back rather than scraping me off ground.
Would you rather… have birdwings or batwings?
Wilde: Batwings. Manmade batwings, made of silk and bone, as in my books?
Scalzi: Very subtle.
Wilde: Batwings are more accommodating for high risk situations.
Schoen went for batwings, but Myer voted birdwings, as did Dickinson, because, as he said “I’m lazy.”
Scalzi (staring at him): “You don’t want to have to flap?”
Would you rather….fly anywhere in the universe? Or be able to travel in time, but you never get to leave the earth?
Wilde: I love to travel, and see other perspectives, so being able to fly would be great. I want to see Pluto, and be assured that it is still a planet in my heart.
Would you rather be a Wright Brother, or Yuri Gagarin?
(The whole audience ooohs.)
Scalzi (to us): These are questions that go right to your soul.
Wilde: That’s brutal….I think… a Wright Brother. The act of leaving the ground… it had been attempted so many times, and there was such doubt that it was even possible, so to break that first barrier must have been amazing.
Dickinson: I’m not risking my brilliance in a paper plane!
Scalzi: Oh, but a Russian-made rocket?
When Scalzi turned it over to the audience, space won handily.
Now it was Ilana C. Myer’s turn! Her book, Last Song Before Night, creates a world where music is magic, and the heroes are poets.
Would you rather… win an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) or be named Poet Laureate of the United States?
Myer (immediately): Oh, EGOT. You get all the respect, and wayyyy more power.
Scalzi: Like Chita Revera!
Lawrence Schoen chimed in with a vote for Poet Laureate because he believes, “the EGOT will come. And I’ll write a poem about each of them.” Wilde, ever the troublemaker, asked if she could vote for a MacArthur Award. She was refused.
Would you rather have lunch with Bob Dylan or Dylan Thomas?
Myer (again, immediately) Dylan Thomas
Scalzi: Don’t go drinking with him.
Myer: …why not? Is there a story?
Scalzi: Just don’t do shots with him.
(This elicited “awwwwws” from the audience.)
Scalzi (to us): What? Too soon?
Wilde wanted to know which incarnation of Dylan she’d be dining with (which, fair point) but Scalzi exasperatedly yelled “Come on! Oh, fine. Before he went electric? Is that OK?” This was deemed acceptable, and a dinner date was confirmed.
Next Scalzi presented a gut-wrenching choice: Would you rather… write something soulless that brings you fame and wealth, or toil in obscuirty on work that’s truly meaningful to you?
Dickinson: “You promised this wouldn’t get too real!”
All the authors came to a unanimous decision, choosing to write things that were meaningful to them rather than go for wealth. The audience overwhelmingly agreed.
Scalzi: “So noble.”
Would you rather…lose ability to speak? Or to write?
Myers: Holy shit. Speak!
Dickinson: …I could keep writing books but not have to do anymore of these panels? Speak!
Wilde: Define write…
Wilde: I want to write, so, speak.
Would you rather… play flute or electric guitar?
Myer: electric guitar
Schoen: Flute, if I play flute, there’s no chance that I’ll have to sing.
Scalzi: The lead singer of Jethro Tull would like to speak to you.
And finally, Lawrence Schoen (who, in another life, is the founder of the Klingon Language Institute) described hie debut novel Barsk! as “Dune meets The Sixth Sense, with elephants.”
Scalzi: It’s got everything.
Would you rather… see the future? Or communicate with the dead?
Schoen: Talk with dead. As sci-fi has taught us, knowing the future is just going to lead to misery. But, if you speak to the dead, you can hear about other people’s misery!
Myer: Communicate with the dead. Seeing future would make me anxious.
Dickinson: Stock market, John.
Wilde: Since observing things, by definition, changes them, seeing future wldnt be worth much. Speaking with dead… they don’t change.
Would you rather… be an outcast visionary or celebrated scholar?
Schoen: Celebrated scholar. Although I will mention, I was lured away into the private sector by a grad student…which tripled my salary and cut my workload in half. With elephants.
Dickinson: I AM NEVER GOING BACK TO GRAD SCHOOL.
The last time they played this game, Scalzi asked if they’d rather “uplift”, ie, give human intelligence to, a dog or a cat. Everyone agreed that uplifting a cat is a bad idea. So now the dogs have won a second round!
Would you rather…uplift a dog? Or a squid?
Scalzi: Cephalopods just ring your bell.
Dickinson: imagine how terrible it would be if your sad dog could talk? Squid.
Would you rather… sail the world, or orbit Earth in a space station?
Scalzi: You’d have to deal with Christopher Cross. By the way? If you get that joke you’re old.
Wilde: Or a sailor!
Would you rather… live in Star Trek universe, or the universe of your book?
(The crowd oooohs, one fan yells, “Answer in Klingon!”)
Schoen: On the advice of counsel, my answer is yes. …I think I’d rather live in the universe of my book. With elephants.
Myer: Star Trek.
Dickinson: Star Trek. If things are looking down, you can go get assimilated.
The lightning round revealed two important things:
1.) every single author, plus Scalzi, plus the entire audience except for two people, voted to save Archduke Franz Ferdinand over saving JFK.
2.) Seth Dickinson has never seen The Neverending Story.
So with that I’m going to turn it over to you, the reader, and borrow one of Scalzi’s questions: Would you rather… ride a Sandworm? Or a Luck Dragon?