Eating Authors: Ian Tregillis

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Ian Tregillis

I haven’t done a formal study, but my impression is that the majority of guests here at EATING AUTHORS fall into one of three groups: paranormal romance writers, physicists, and everything else (what the Klingons refer to as chuvmey, but that’s a digression for a different blog post). This may be a bit of distant foreshadowing or omen that this series will end when I find a physicist who writes paranormal romance.

To the best of my knowledge, my guest this week isn’t penning paranormal romance but he is a physicist. Ian Tregillis is the author of the popular alternate history series The Milkweed Tryptich (Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War, and Necessary Evil), which among other things pits Übermenschen created by Nazi scientists against the blood magic of British warlocks, and along the way blends science fiction and fantasy concepts so well you’ll be captivated through all three books.

Ian’s latest book is Something More Than Night, which Kirkus has described as “a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler inspired murder mystery set in Thomas Aquinas’s vision of Heaven.” There’s a certain chutzpah to writing a detective noir about murdering the archangel Gabriel.

You should also know that Ian’s a contributor to the relaunch of George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series.

And finally, this summer a lucky few will find him high upon a mountaintop where he’ll be the special lecturer at Walter Jon William’s Taos Toolbox, a writers’ master class that I recommend without reservation.

Bitter Seeds

LMS: Welcome, Ian. Tell me about your most memorable meal.

IT: In terms of sheer memorability, I’d have to say the top meal for me would be the time I ate dinner sitting next to Freeman Dyson. I was a postdoc at the time, living and working at Princeton. But my home base was in New Mexico, though, so I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth across the country — meaning I knew few people in either place. But somehow I got to know somebody connected to an amateur astronomy group in the Princeton area (and who continues to be a good friend to me, all these years later), and so would occasionally receive an invitation to join the group at their dinners. The one and only month I was able to join them their guest speaker was George Dyson, whose book Project Orion had been published the previous spring.

Something More Than Night

He was in town doing research on the book that would become, I believe, Turing’s Cathedral. His research had taken him to the Institute for Advanced Study, which, of course, gave him an opportunity to visit his famous father. I gather that George Dyson had asked the group if it would be OK for his father, Freeman, to tag along, and that (not surprisingly) this met with great enthusiasm. So anyway, as luck would have it, I ended up sitting across the table from George and to Freeman’s immediate left. (How sinister of me.) I’m sure that neither gentleman remembers that evening, but it was thoroughly entertaining and memorable for me. We ate in a little Italian restaurant below street level, with long tables and dim lighting. I don’t remember the food. But what I do remember, vividly, is listening to the Dysons talk about various famous personages from the IAS: George from the point of view of a writer and researcher, Freeman from the point of view of somebody who had known personally the people in question. It was fascinating. They conversed so casually about people who I knew only as famous names in the history of math and physics. They were both charming, urbane, incredibly intelligent, and extremely well spoken. And funny, too — my very favorite part of the meal, which I will always remember for as long as I live, was when the conversation turned to the spouses of various famous IAS faculty. When the younger Dyson asked his father about one particularly famous IAS personage from days gone by, the older Dyson said, “Oh, yes, he was married to so-and-so. I knew them well…” And then, turning to me, added sotto voce, “…and she was crazy.”

That is probably the closest I’ve ever come to doing an honest-to-goodness spit take.

Necessary Evil

A close runner-up would be the lunch I ate in an isolated farmhouse on the Greek island of Poros. This was back in grad school, a number of years ago now — I’d been sent to Mykonos for a workshop (not exactly a hardship, I admit), and decided to take a few extra days to tour around Greece. I’d chosen to visit Paros because it was a little bit off the beaten path compared to the usual touristy spots in the Greek Isles. I was in need of solitude and of “putting some mass” on my thoughts, as a friend of mine likes to call it. So I rented a mountain bike and cycled around the entire perimeter of the island, stopping as necessary for herds of goats and to photograph the occasional temple ruin. As is typical for me, I neglected to pack any food for my jaunt around the island — but a little bit past lunchtime, as I was starting to feel ravenous, I passed a farm with a handwritten sign advertising fresh food. (Possibly intended for wayward travelers with poor planning skills, like me.) It was particularly fun because I spoke just a few words of Greek and the family spoke virtually no English, and yet it all worked out.

Ian, I confess, I was half expecting you to end with “and who should be enjoying lunch at that same farm but Freeman Dyson.” Ah well, that’s what we have the alternate worlds theory for, right?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!



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