Welcome to WOLF NOTES, where interview questions stray from the rest of the pack. It’s nice to know the usual stuff like where an author gets their inspiration and why they write, but sometimes we need a little fun in our lives.
This week I welcome Steven Southard
Submariner, engineer, and Jules Verne fan, Steven R. Southard pens stories that showcase people as toolmakers, gadget-masters, dreamers and tinkerers, creators of devices and victims of them. He’s written in the genres of steampunk, clockpunk, science fiction, alternate history, fantasy, and horror. His stories have been published in over ten anthologies, including In a Cat’s Eye, Hides the Dark Tower, Dead Bait, and Avast, Ye Airships! Another story will appear in the upcoming anthology, Dark Luminous Wings. Tales in his What Man Hath Wrought series span all human history as well as timelines that might have been, featuring the drama and danger of invention and discovery.
Wolf: If you had to pick a weapon, what would it be and why?
Steve: I’d opt for the Centaurian Demilitarizer. Invented by the beings of Proxima Centauri B, it’s a bit difficult to wield without tentacles, but if aimed and fired at an enemy’s weapon, it renders that weapon useless. They haven’t had a war or a murder on Centauri B in the past millennium.
Wolf: What is the meanest thing you’ve ever done to your characters?
Steve: Tough question; I’m pretty mean to all my major characters. Perhaps the meanest thing is what I did to the mission commander in “The Cometeers,” my steampunk version of the movie Armageddon. First, the story is set in 1899 and a planet-devastating comet is on its way toward Earth. Humanity launches a desperate, international mission to redirect the comet using gunpowder. Of the three manned capsules launched from the Jules Verne cannon, one doesn’t make it to orbit. The six remaining crewmen receive a radio message that one of them is a traitor, but the transmission fails before telling which one. Then their first attempt to divert the comet fails and they have no backup plan. That’s pretty mean.
Wolf: Do you consider yourself a cat person, or a dog person?
Steve: My gut reaction is to say I’m a dog person. My family owned a dog when I was young, and I’ve never owned a cat. Still, I’ve written about both animals in my stories—a basset hound in “Ripper’s Ring” and various mutated cats in “The Cats of Nerio-3,” a story appearing in the anthology In a Cat’s Eye. But your question goes deeper, doesn’t it? Cats and dogs are the yin and yang of pets. Cats go their own way and are their own masters, demanding much and offering little. Dogs are dependable, loyal, predictable, subordinate, and trusting. I’ve got a strong amount of both cat traits and dog traits in my nature, but perhaps I lean more toward the dog side.
Wolf: While walking in the woods you come across…
Steve: …a small boy, about ten years old, riding the back of a mechanical, clockwork lion. It’s the one made by Leonardo da Vinci in 1515, as depicted in my story, “Leonardo’s Lion.” Not meaning to startle the boy, I wait until he passes and move on. Emerging into a clearing, I see an enormous, metal spring, compressed but still standing over a hundred yards in the air. It’s the spring used to launch men to the moon in my story “A Tale More True.” I hasten back behind the tree line but hear loud footfalls. To my horror, there’s a Martian tripod fighting machine making its way through the forest, just like the one from my story, “After the Martians.” I hide within some foliage until I can’t hear the machine’s noise any more. Perhaps today isn’t a good day to be walking in these woods. But it’s a fine one for reading.
Wolf: If you could have a super power, what would it be?
Steve: The ability to write best-selling novels without effort. But the world’s citizenry shouldn’t worry. I’d only use my power for good.
Wolf: There is a door at the end of dark, damp corridor. You hear rumbling. What do you do?
Steve: Wait for my stomach to settle down. I shouldn’t have eaten such a large meal, especially before entering this sewer, particularly a sewer with an inexplicable door at its end.
Wolf: The world is about to end. What is the first thing you do?
Steve: Change the channel, if I’ve seen this movie before. If I haven’t, I’ll make some popcorn and enjoy the show. Oh, you mean, what do I do if the real world were really ending? Still the popcorn thing, but with extra melted butter and salt.
Wolf: Describe a meal you would be served while visiting another world.
Steve: You and I sit in one of the famous floating dining halls of Tau Ceti e, with their hovering chair and table pads, all decorated in white and lit so as to best highlight the food. Cetean technology is a millennium or two ahead of our own, so their food seems almost magical. Completely synthetic, it is individually manufactured to optimize both nutrition and taste. Part of the preparation involves scanning the individual for dietary needs, favorite flavors, and vitamin deficiencies. My plate contains Lobster Newberg on a bed of rice, with a side of string beans and broccoli sprinkled with fresh grated parmesan cheese. A crisp, yet steely white wine complements the food. Ah, and now the robotic waiter’s brought the bill. Um, I’m a little short. Do you mind?
Wolf: What story are you working on now?
Steve: I’m writing an updated version of the John Henry story—the one where the steel-driving man competes with a steam-powered spike driver. In my story, a CEO competes with a robotic CEO, among the last occupations to be automated.
Wolf: Steve, there are millions of stories out there, and I can only read so many; why should I read yours?
Steve: My answer is that one of the main problems of our age is how we must come to grips with new technology since it advances so fast and changes so much. My stories focus on characters just like you contending with the good and bad of unfamiliar technology, facing and overcoming unforeseen problems, most often in a historical setting. Call this subgenre “technohistory” if you want, but there aren’t too many authors writing in it.