Eating Authors: Wil McCarthy

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Wil McCarthy

I suspect that the first time I met Wil was back in 2002 at the Nebula Awards in Kansas City, where his novel The Collapsium (the first book in what would become his The Queendom of Sol series) was a nominee for Best Novel.

Wil is very much a science guy. He’s the science columnist for Syfy, but probably has no control over the continuing production of Sharknado films. He also cofounded RavenBrick, a materials science company that developed thermochromic filter technology for managing solar heat gain in windows (as one does). Given that background, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the concept of “wellstone” from much of his fiction is also a real thing: Programmable Matter, physical material with the capability of information processing. Living in the future!

After a long absence from publishing novels, he returns, tomorrow, with a new book, Antediluvian, a time travel tale unlike any you’ve seen before. I’m quite excited to read it!

LMS: Welcome, Wil. What comes to mind as your most memorable meal?

WM: It was 1990 in Kagoshima, Japan, on the island of Kyushu. I had just visited the Uchinoura Space Center, one of two locations from which the Japanese launch rockets into space, and I was eating in a seafood restaurant (which in Japan is simply known as a “restaurant”) when I noticed they had fugu as an option on the menu. This was exciting and a little scary, as I had recently read Wade Davis’ The Serpent and the Rainbow, and was well aware that fugu was made from the most toxic parts of the very toxic pufferfish. Packed with tetrodotoxin, it was the raw material for a Voodoo witch doctor’s drug that could put people in a cataleptic state indistinguishable from clinical death, and sometimes led to actual clinical death. The Japanese, God love ’em, serve it as a delicacy at the fanciest of sushi bars.

Antediluvian

This takes years of training to do safely — the raw meat is so toxic that even touching it can kill you. However, these expert chefs have learned (presumably through horrific trial and error over a period of many centuries) how to detoxify the meat so that instead of killing you or putting you in a deathlike trance, it, you know, gets you high. Although deaths do still sometimes occur, and you have to sign a waiver in order to dine.

The dish was expensive (about a hundred bucks in 1990 — roughly equivalent to a new car today), and consisted of several distinct components: the sushi, the sashimi, the pâté, and the eyes. Fish eyes are gross; I’d eaten them before, but wasn’t eager to again, so I left those alone, and nibbled daintily on the rest of it, washing it down (perhaps ill-advisedly) with a Sapporo Light. At this point, I began to feel a little weird and paranoid, so even though I was there with people, I took out a pen and scribbled a note onto a cocktail napkin: “I HAVE EATEN FUGU. IF I APPEAR TO BE DEAD, PLEASE DO NOT BURY ME.” I spoke conversational Japanese at an idiot level, but couldn’t write it, so the note was in English. I slipped it into my front pocket, where any coroner would surely find it before commencing with the actual autopsy.

The Collapsium

Thus prepared, I set off with my group of associates to explore the town a bit. The fugu high isn’t one I recommend; as I walked down the sidewalk, I felt a peculiar sense of dissociation, almost an out of body experience. My body walked down the sidewalk, and my awareness floated along with it, physically overlapping but not actually connected. Worryingly, my lips were numb. I was capable of speech, but slurred a bit, as if I’d had a couple of stiff belts of whiskey, and I didn’t really want to talk. I didn’t really want anything.

Did I survive the experience? In this universe, yes, although I went to bed that night still feeling off-kilter, and awoke with a headache. Am I glad I did it? Definitely. Would I do it again? Probably not, although it’s worth considering that my most memorable meal was more than half my life ago. Maybe I’ve been living too tamely.

Thanks, Wil. I have to say, fugu makes my list of foods that I’m hard pressed to understand how or why someone said “hey, this would be good to eat.” Move over lutefisk.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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One Response to “Eating Authors: Wil McCarthy”

Fascinating! Thank you, Wil, for sharing your experience, and thank you, LMS for this marvelous ongoing series. I always look forward to Monday mornings thanks to you and your “Eating Authors” Series!


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