Airship Ambassador: Hi Brent, thanks for joining us for this interview.
Brent Nichols: Thanks for having me.
AA: Some of our readers will know you from your Gears of a Mad God steampunk/Lovecraft novellas. Other readers will be followers of your War of the Necromancer trilogy of sword and sorcery novels. You’ve also had stories in Shanghai Steam and Capes and Clockwork. Now there is The Harpoonist in Clockwork Canada. What is it about?
BN: This story has a long and somewhat convoluted genesis. It started with an open submission call for an anthology called Shanghai Steam, which was looking for mashups between steampunk and wuxia, which I would summarize as “kung fu heroics”. I created a team of steampunk superheroes, one of whom was a Chinese martial artist who’d come to Canada to work on the railroad.
The story didn’t come together in time for that anthology. I wasn’t a good enough writer yet. But over the next few years I managed to wrestle that story, called “The Gears of Justice”, into shape, and I sold it. When I heard about the submission call for Clockwork Canada, I regretted having sold a story that would have fit quite nicely. But I discovered there were additional untold stories about my steampunk superhero team. The Harpoonist is an origin story for one team member, and in many ways it’s better than the story that inspired it.
AA: It’s nice to hear there are always more stories to tell. Why choose steampunk as the aesthetic and feel?
BN: One reason, of course, is that I was writing to the anthology’s requirements. When I impose a rigid set of outside restrictions on myself, it challenges me as a writer. Some of my best stories have come from forcing myself to conform to the rules of an anthology.
I’m also fascinated by steampunk. To me, steampunk is a wonderful playground of “what if” storytelling. We get to reimagine the 19th century as it could have been. We get to play with technology that feels accessible. Give a clever person a broken ipad and they will be able to achieve nothing. Give that same person a broken clockwork device and they will, with sufficient determination, be able to take it apart, understand how it works, tinker with it, repair it, even improve it.
The technology of the Victorian era empowers us in ways modern technology really doesn’t. The 19th century was a glorious age of possibility in terms of what one person could do with a nimble brain and simple tools.
AA: “What if” is one of the best things about steampunk. What can you share with us about the main characters, Henry McClane, and Alice O’Reilly?
BN: Henry and Alice are two misfits bouncing around the industrial heart of Gastown in 1885. Alice is a born leader, full of charisma and idealism. She’s formed unions and agitated for worker rights until no factory in the town will hire her. Now she’s gathering her fellow misfits and they’re building a factory of their own.
Henry’s a horse of a very different colour. He’s a cynic, and he came very close to becoming a thug and a brute. He sees danger where Alice is oblivious. He gets into the thick of things and brawls with gangsters to keep Alice and the new factory safe.
AA: A bit of yin and yang with the characters. Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
BN: In a nutshell, steampunk superheroes. Oh, there’s social commentary and ethical struggles and solemn contemplation of the human condition, but at its heart, The Harpoonist is a collision of two of the coolest things Western genre fiction has ever dreamed up – steampunk and superheroes.
AA: I really enjoyed that aspect of the story – steampunk superheroes. People doing what they can to help others in ways they couldn’t do as their regular selves. How did elements of your own life play into The Harpoonist?
BN: Ultimately The Harpoonist is a story of people finding their place in a changing world. I’ve spent much of my life feeling like a misfit, or feeling like I was falling far short of my potential. All the characters in the story are seeking, finding, or building a place to belong.
AA: That idea will certainly speak to many of our readers. Everyone want to belong somewhere, to actively be part of a community, and it takes time and effort to figure out what that right group is. What kind of back story is there for The Harpoonist which didn’t make it into the final version?
BN: So far I’ve written three stories about Team Justice, Vancouver’s team of steampunk superheroes. The Harpoonist is the second story chronologically. A story in Tesseracts 19, Superhero Universe, describes the origins of Crusher and Typhoon, a super duo who encounter McClane and help him become The Harpoonist. A third story in Enigma Front: Burnt is set two years later, and introduces Firebrand, the team’s fourth member. Each story stands alone, but taken together they show the creation of a team of steam-powered super heroes.
AA: Are there any plans for more adventures of the Harpoonist, or other crime fighters?
BN: I’ve written three stories so far in the world of the Harpoonist. I’ve self-published a superhero-romance novella called Justice Girl Gets Her Man, and I’ve got a story about super hero love bots in a crime anthology called AB Negative. Next year I might gather all those stories together and self-publish them in one volume. There might even be another story about the Harpoonist and his teammates. Who knows?
AA: More stories to find! When people read The Harpoonist, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
BN: Don’t be afraid to put on a mask and prowl the streets fighting crime? Okay, maybe not that. The story is an exploration of what it means to be displaced from your life, or to not have a place to belong. I would love it if my story helped someone who was trying to find their place in the world, trying to find a way to belong, to contribute, to excel.
We’ll pause here in out chat with Brent. Join us for the conclusion when he’ll talk about the steampunk elements in the story, research, and the writing process.
Keep up to date with Brent’s latest news on his website.
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