Eating Authors: Steven Gould

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Categories: Plugs

Steven Gould

For the last few years, I’ve had the task, pain-in-the-ass job, honor, pleasure of being responsible—though fortunately, not solely responsible—for the annual elections of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (what we call SFWA). The process involves strong-arming people to volunteer to run for one or another office, badgering them for platform statements, disseminating those statements to the membership at large, pissing off my letter carrier as the ballots all come to my house, and then opening, vetting, sorting, and counting the votes. When the dust finally settles, I inform the sitting president of the results.

That last bit happened at the end of April. Soon after, the word went out to the membership at large as to who won and who didn’t and by how much. So, I’m not giving away any secrets now by telling you that commencing July 1st, the new president of SFWA will be Steven Gould. And what better way to celebrate his coming reign than to have him here on Eating Authors?

Steven is probably best known for his 1992 novel, Jumper, which spawned two sequels, a movie, a novelization of the movie, and a sequel to the parallel universe story of the movie (I think I have that right). He’s been twice nominated for the Hugo Award, once for the Nebula Award, took home a Hal Clement Award for his second novel, Wildside, and has been recognized by no less an organization than the National Library Association for the quality of his young adult fiction.

I’ve been a fan of his work since 1992 when I picked up Jumper, and one of the high lights of the Reno worldcon for me was getting to hear Steven read from the then-still-unfinished third (or fifth, depending on how you count) book in the series, Impulse, which finally came out this past January.

LMS: Welcome, Mr. President-Elect. If you please, would you tell us of your most memorable meal?

SG: It was January of 1981 and I was in Houston working my first job out of college as an R&D prototype expeditor for an oil tool company. I’d published my first story (“Touch of Their Eyes”, Analog, Sept ’80) and my second was coming out in five months, (“Wind Instrument”, Asimov’s, June ’81.) I was in the unusual position of having money (not from the writing!) and I decided to take my father and a good friend of mine to Cozumel because there were some really cheap flights.

JonTim and I went to our first years of high school together on Oahu and I ended up choosing my university (Texas A&M) for no other reason than it was where he went. (In a sense, he still goes there, but he graduated and now works for TAMU’s Cyclotron Institute, designing, programming, and installing computerized controls for the beam line. Because that’s what you do with a Psychology Degree.)

The reason we wanted to go to Cozumel was because we had both been diving since Hawaii.

So, what does his have to do with food?

We were doing a morning and afternoon boat dive on Palancar Reef. It’s on the west side of Cozumel, facing mainland Yucatan, protected from offshore swells of the Carribean Sea. This particular dive included lunch, not just to feed us (a worthy goal) but to give us some surface interval–so we would outgas accumulated nitrogen, reducing the risk of bends on the second dive.

Unlike the other dives we’d done during the first few days of our trip, they didn’t just pull out a cooler and hand out plastic-bagged sandwiches and soft drinks. Instead, the boat headed south and around the tip of Cozumel, pulling into a protected cove. There were no roads to this place. A smaller boat was drawn up on the beach and a fire, burning down to coals, waited in a pit.

Our dive boat drew too much water to pull up onto the beach, but they grounded in the sand about twenty yards from the shore and we jumped down into waist deep water and walked ashore. Our crew carried an ice chest, a large shallow pan, perhaps two feet across, and a old wooden beer case from which I could see protruding the handle of a machete and the tail of a young barracuda.

7th Sigma


The pan went on the coals and oil was poured into it. Turned over, the old beer case became a chopping board and the barracuda* was roughly skinned and chopped into one inch pieces with the machete, no careful fileting, bones and all. Out came a cluster of small peppers. The machete flew again and the coarse chopped peppers and the fish went into smoking hot oil. Then it was limes, sliced in half and squeezed over the sizzling mass.

It was cooked in less than three minutes.

They didn’t bring soft-drinks. The ice chest contained bottled beer. No twist-offs here. Also no bottle opener but here’s where I leaned how to open a bottle-top with a machete. You squeeze the neck of the bottle, your thumb and forefinger wrapped around the glass right below the cap. Place the machete across your hand, dull side against the glass, and twist. Cap comes off, fingers don’t (always a plus), and the cold beer goes amazing with the fish which is served on paper plates with soft warm tortillas.

I don’t drink beer. I drank that one.

Best fish I ever had.

Was it the food, was it the circumstances? Don’t think I had much breakfast. The dive was to 84 feet, drifting with the current across the face of the reef. When we surfaced the boat came to us, so it wasn’t as if I’d had a strenuous shore dive with a lot of swimming.

But it was darker in the deeps and when you come up, the world is new again. The sun, annoying before, is now your best friend, taking away the chill. You go from enforced silence to eager chatter. Did you see…? Wasn’t that amazing?

On the same trip, we rented motor scooters and took the sandy road out to the southern lighthouse, our scooters sliding back and forth in the loose sand. We stopped to push a VW, sunk up to its axle. By the time we got it free, we were coated in sweat and sand.

When we finally made it out to the lighthouse a boy sat in the shade with an icebox running off the Lighthouse generator. Only one drink. Mexican Coca-Cola, made with real sugar.

I don’t drink Coke unless I’m working on some rum, but, again, that was a good Coke.


* The following safety information is provided from Fishermens Pool:

Barracuda are good table fare, but the larger of the species are know to harbor Ciguatera poisoning from eating reef fish, so most barracuda kept for the table are under 30 inches in length.
A note on Ciguatera Poisoning – Ciguatera is a foodborne illness caused by eating tropical and sub tropical fin fish that have been contaminated by dinoflagellates through their consumption of certain algaes, or their consumption of other fish that eat those algaes.

Thanks, Steven. The footnote about Ciguatera Poisoning was especially appreciated because of the image that came to mind when I read the word “dinoflagellates.” Yes, I went there.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


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