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Author Spotlight: Stephen B. Pearl

Stephen B. Pearl

Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.

Today:

Stephen B. Pearl is a multiple-published author whose works range across the speculative fiction field. His writings focus heavily on the logical consequences of the worlds he crafts.

Stephen’s Inspirations encompass H.G. Wells, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, and Homer, among others.

Stephen uses local settings in his works where appropriate. His Chronicles of Ray McAndrews series, Nukekubi and Revenant, are set in the GHA and surrounding areas. His Tinker’s World series, Tinker’s Plague and Tinker’s Sea, is set in a future Southern Ontario.

Where local settings don’t work, he could be anywhere in time or space. Just look at his Freedom Saga starting with Cloning Freedom or his Bastard Prince Saga starting with Horn of the Kraken.

Stephen is a frequent speaker and reader at speculative fiction conventions, and he has conducted courses through the HPL. His training as an Emergency Medical Care Assistant, and a SCUBA diver, and his long-standing interest in environmental technologies have factored into all his science fiction books, be they on or off the planet Earth.

Thanks so much, Stephen, for joining me!

J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?

Stephen B. Pearl: I’m fast-paced while trying to hold to reasonable logic and science. That doesn’t mean not using future advanced science, but it does mean avoiding the clearly impossible. I like to have some modicum of fact behind what I do. For my paranormal work, I follow the principles of the Western Esoteric System with the power level jacked. For my near future, such as the Tinker Series and Cats, I look at what is on the fringe today and extrapolate it into an in-use technology. I then follow the consequences of that technology. For my far future, the Freedom Saga, I stick with the basic principle that humans are humans, and you are always going to have the idiot that over-torqued the bolt you’re trying to get off. Whether that bolt is in a Mazda pickup or a Hawk Class, Heavy Lander, Troop Support spaceship.

This Book: The Freedom Saga : Cloning Freedom, Freedom’s Law, Freedom’s Myth, Arming Freedom (Dec 2024), Freedom’s Plan (Dec 2025) final edit, Freedom’s War (Dec 2026) Edit, Freedom’s Price (Dec 2027) Completed first draft. Freedom’s Life (Dec 2028) In progress.

JSC: How did you choose the topic for The Freedom Saga?

SBP: Freedom is a word that gets bandied about a lot, but what is it to be free?

There is no such thing as perfect freedom. I may be free to jump off a cliff, but unless I take precautions, my attempt at flight will be short-lived, as will I.

It is said, ‘A hungry man is not a free man,’. Following on that thought, is a person who dares not leave a job they hate because they couldn’t afford the medications that are keeping them alive without the company health plan a slave to that company?

“What about the freedom of others? If I am free to dump poisonous waste into a river, am I not denying the freedom to drink the water from everyone downstream?

The libertarian ideal falls apart because it invariably becomes rulership of he who has the biggest club. Thus, all are enslaved.

Freedom is a sliding scale. I wanted to explore that. I also wanted to look at the nature of oppression and slavery. To do this, I went into a distant future and created a technology, the e-entertainments, that made sense of why slavery might exist. I also wanted to explore bigotry and othering without people bringing a load of preconceived notions to the table.

JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?

SBP: Henry, my AI ex-military battle mech, is secretly bigoted against most biologicals. Not the hard-core bigotry that says kill them all, but a low-core smugness that looks down on them.

Of course, maybe he just doesn’t like stupid people, no matter their nature. He doesn’t seem to have any problem with Ryan and Rowan or the rest of the Star Hawk’s crew. You see, it can be hard to tell with motivations. Do I dislike someone because they are of a group? Or because they vandalized my property, play loud music at all hours, and are generally a jerk?

Henry never comes straight out and says he has those feelings and is ambiguous about them. Thus, I think it fits the not known aspect of the question.

JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this series, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

SBP: I always want to entertain first and foremost. That is the duty of fiction. Secondly, I want people to think. To consider the world from a new perspective.

I wanted to explore how othering is a pernicious, hardwired aspect of the human animal.

It’s simple, I other you because while my territory can support me and mine, if the crops fail, you will be another mouth to feed. Me and mine will suffer.

This hardwired survival response is something to be recognized and guarded against so it doesn’t shift to a new target as we clear the old ones.

The present biases of race, sexuality, and faith have been put to rest in the Freedom Saga, so the unenlightened members of Humanity have picked clones to be their other.

I also wanted to have an adventure where perseverance, effort, and high ideals triumph while not creating supermen or goody-two-shoes characters.

Rowan and Ryan have tempers and can be fanatical in the defense of those they love. They are humans with faults and virtues. They aren’t perfect, but by most measures, they are good. In a world where we seem determined to drag everyone and everything through the mud, I wanted to give my readers someone to root for. Let’s say I wanted the lighter shade of grey to triumph.

JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this series?

SBP: The fact that it was intended to be a trilogy. Honestly, the tale truly did grow in the telling.

JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?

SBP: Catherine Fitzsimmons, she also runs Brain Lag, the publisher of the Freedom Saga, and is my editor for the Freedom Saga not to mention an Author in her own right. She is wonderful to work with and has become a friend over the years of our association.

JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about them.

SBP: Sooplus and Mueperss are the captain and first mate of the Duck-Like Avian With A Rocket Up Its Arse. The translator can be a little odd with proper nouns.

They waltz back and forth over the line of legality and are a mixed species couple, Otterzoid and Felinezoid, respectively. They are also raising Mueperss’s son from a previous relationship. Recreational sex is possible between some species, but there is no inter-species breeding in the Switch Bord universe where the Freedom Saga takes place.

When you first meet them they try to sell Rowan out to the authorities. They are unapologetic scoundrels who love each other and their son, look after their crew and would happily become honest merchants if it paid as well.

JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?

Bastle, Bessa, Anue, QT, and Big Eyes. They and other felines I have loved and valued were much of the inspiration for the Felinezoids in the Freedom Saga and the felines in the book Cats.

JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

SBP: I was a lifeguard for many years. That has factored into several of my books. I had an editor try and tell me I was wrong regarding aspects of a water rescue once. I listed my qualifications, now expired, and we moved on. When I write EVAs, I tend to draw on my experiences as a Scuba Diver while keeping in mind that in space, there is nothing to push against. I also trained as an Emergency Medical Care Assistant, which I’ve drawn on for medicine and emergency care in my books.

In addition, I’ve been a Shipping and Receiving clerk and taught the Mad Science after-school program, which was a great refresher in the basics and factored heavily into a yet-to-be-published Children’s book, ‘Under the Sea.’ I’ve worked at a winery on a fruit loading bay. Everything goes into the mix.

JSC: We know what you like to write, but what do you like to read in your free time, and why?

SBP: What is this free time you speak of? I’d have to say my favourite living author is Jim Butcher with his Dresden Files books. I’m also fond of Terry Pratchett and back to the living Ira Nayman, who is also a friend of mine.

JSC: What qualities do you and your characters share? How much are you like them, or how different are they from you?

SBP: Depends on the character. Ryan from the Freedom Saga, Brad from the Tinker’s World and I share a mechanical aptitude. I’m a jack-of-all-trades home handyman.

I share a certain fascination for leggy brunets with Ryan. Of course, I also have a weakness for redheads, like Ray from my Chronicles of Ray McAndrews books.

Come to think of it, a thing I have in common with all my male leads is an attraction to intelligent, determined women. It isn’t surprising since, as the writer, I have to spend a lot of time with my female leads, so they may as well be people I like.

On other matters, I can differ wildly from my characters. They have different upbringings. I think I’m loyal in the way they are and a touch of a romantic. It’s hard to say because we seldom see ourselves clearly.

JSC: How does the world end?

SBP: Mankind – drowning in a sea of our own waste. The Earth – likely swallowed up when the sun turns into a Red Giant.

JSC: What’s your favourite line from any movie?

SBP: Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape. – The Hog Father by Terry Pratchett

JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!

SBP: I’m working on Freedom’s Life, the hopefully final book of the Freedom Saga, though there will be other Switchboard Universe books if I live long enough. Next out will likely be Lycanthrope book three of The Chronicles of Ray McAndrues.

Ray finds himself hunting a werewolf that is possessing dogs and using them to assault the people of Hamilton, Ontario. The tale becomes more involved, and Ray learns much about his own animal nature as he finds the strength to stop the beast. But what is the greater monster, the Wear (man) or the Wolf?

Freedom’s Life follows Ryan and Rowan as they start the building of Travel Log Entertainments, their company, and deal with outstanding issues developed in the previous books. I wanted to show that there are no happy endings because there are no endings. So often, the heroes have their great adventure and then slip into a bland mundanity that is supposed to be happy. Ryan and Rowan aren’t cut out for that.

I sum it up nicely in Arming Freedom:

“I’m tired, Henry! All I wanted was to rescue Rowan, leave the Republic, and be out of it. But the politicians in the U.E.S. wouldn’t let that happen. I didn’t want another fight, but it seems that’s all I’ve had since I liberated Rowan. I was willing to leave the U.E.S. and the Republic alone. I’m not a social crusader. Is a quiet life with the woman I love too much to ask?” Ryan buried his face in his hands.

“Yes.” Henry’s voice held nothing of banter or sexual heat.

“What?” Ryan looked up.

“You are not made for a quiet life, and you know it. What good will being able to nest cat boxes in our fast-loading system be in a system with only human ships? Inside, you know you’ll not leave the Republic. The last few years almost killed you. Soon would have. You spent your free time building for a life you could live. Rebuilding the Star Hawk, trying to save Joslin, which everyone knew was a lost cause but meant you could avoid romantic interactions. You fell in love with an emotional surrogate because they accidentally made your near-perfect match. Memories selected to make a type that will seek out challenges. A staggering level of compassion and empathy coupled with a harsh pragmatism. Top ten percentile for human intelligence. It’s good that you weren’t with the studio for her creation, or people would think you custom-made her. When it comes to you fleshies, like attracts like. At some level, you knew she would match you in a way Joslin never could. Do you really think Rowan would be satisfied with routine runs to load up at the ice moon, dump the ice on Geb, rinse, and repeat? She’d go out of her mind with boredom, and so would you. Neither of you is meant for an ordinary life. You and Rowan are meant to do what others dream about. Meant to make a difference.”

Ryan sat in silence for several seconds. “I’m going to get us all killed.”

“Maybe. But it will be a nova blast of a ride. Now, you should get to Rowan’s quarters. She has something she wants to show you. I’d like to see too. Hubba.”


And now for Steven’s current series: The Freedom Saga:

The Freedom Saga: In a Galactic republic where Homo sapiens are an unimportant member species, slavery has reared its ugly head. One of humanity’s few exports is E-entertainments, full VR 5 plus emotion entertainments made by recording the sensory data and responses of clones who live in a set region where controllers manipulate them to get the desired stories. These surrogates are property under the law and think they are living in a small city in the early twenty-first century. 

Medical clones in the greater society are second-class citizens. Captain Ryan Chandler, a war hero cloned after taking a radiation dose in the line of duty, is working as a controller on the set region. When a Do Not Asist order comes out against Rowan, a studio surrogate, he knows it will be a death sentence. Ryan liberates Rowan, setting off a sequence of events that will shake the United Earth Systems and have repercussions even at the Republic level of government. Like falling pebbles that warn of the coming avalanche, the hunt for Ryan and Rowan and their driving need to be free will devastate a corrupt self-congratulatory system.

As this plays out, Ryan and Rowan fall in love and face the reality that freedom is not absolute. They face down things from both their pasts that have left them slaves to their own trauma. In the turmoil, dormant threats to humanity and several other Republic Member Species awake that only Ryan, Rowan and the antiquated Military Heavy Lander Troop Transport, the Star Hawk, which Ryan has restored as a light cargo vessel, can confront.

Ryan and Rowan face the burden of being the right people at the wrong time and place.

Cloning Freedom | Freedom’s Law | Freedom’s Myth


Excerpt

From Book 4 of the series Due out Dec 2024: Arming Freedom.

Notes: Otterzoid – Species resembling a man-sized sea otter with an elongated brain case. Males are telepathic, and Females are telekinetic. Malnutrition causes the Otterzoid to lash out randomly with their abilities.

O.S.C.T.M – A standardized Otterzoid shipping unit. Think of a high-tech Cargo container only smaller.

        Situation: The Star Hawk, Ryan’s ship, has penetrated an enemy blockade to deliver relief supplies to the aid camps on Murack Five.

Ryan held Rowan in what had become their bed. Passion satiated, he was free to enjoy the closeness.

“How long do we have?” Rowan returned the embrace.

“Never long enough. Privacy off, Henry, time?” Ryan spoke to the air.

“An hour to sunrise.” Henry’s voice was pitched soft.

“Bring the light up to day levels. Wake the crew. We’ll brief over breakfast.” Ryan stretched, feeling his spine pop.

“Breakfast is an idea. It’s harder to fight a telepathic projection if it ties into something you have in common with it.” Rowan rolled to the edge of the bed.

Ryan allowed himself to appreciate the view of her lean, well-proportioned form set against a desert scene bathed in predawn light. “I like how you synced the time on the wall projection with local time.”

“Helps to make me feel less jetlagged.” Rowan found the cargo pants and long-sleeved shirt she’d worn the day before, then started to dress.

Ryan followed her example. An hour later, they towed a pair of O.S.C.T.M.s to the Otterzoid settlement. Coopla clambered from one of the dwellings. She moved sluggishly, and her limp was more pronounced.

“I don’t want that here!” Coopla glowered at Rowan.

A rock hurled itself at Rowan. Rowan’s brow wrinkled. The rock stalled in the air, then dropped. Coopla glanced to the side. Another stone sped towards Rowan.

Ryan dropped the O.S.C.T.M. he was pulling and lunged, clutching the Otterzoid around the throat. He pulled Coopla back on her hind legs, strangling her. The second rock dropped.

“How dare you?” The red of rage tinted Ryan’s face, and his voice held death.

“I do not want that abomination near my people. I had time to review a file about Angel Black. She is a killer! To steal my peoples’ abilities, then use them to slaughter us.” A rock flew towards Ryan. He pulled the Otterzoid around and used her body as a shield at the last second.

Coopla grunted as she knocked the wind out of herself.

“They were pirates trying to conquer what I thought was my world,” objected Rowan.

“You slaughtered them. Choaked them to death with your mind. How could you, pup eater?” Coopla lifted another rock with her mind.

“I have had more than enough of people attacking and disrespecting the woman I love.” Ryan tightened his grip on the otterzoid’s throat.

“Ryan, it’s all right. Let her go.” Rowan looked shocked.

“No! I’m done running away. Everything I come across is either trying to blow us up or put us down. It ends here! It ends now! I don’t give a pinch of stardust what your issue is, Coopla. So you read a magazine article about Angel Black and think you know what it was all about? That isn’t even a still image of the situation. Rowan especially, but every member of my crew has taken incredible risks to help the relief workers. If you ever attack any of my people again, I will snap your neck. And if you think you could stop me with telekinesis, you better make your first shot count because you won’t get a second. Pup eater!”

Ryan threw the Otterzoid to the ground and raised a fist, ready to strike.

Coopla lay in the dirt and looked up to see a savage predator ready to pummel her. The rage was terrifying, the stance deadly. Deep inside her animal nature saw only one chance of survival. She lay on her back and looked up at Ryan in utter submission. “I… I…” She trembled, then, mastering herself, rolled onto her front and hung her head. “I am sorry.”

Rowan looked at the cowed healer. “I accept your apology.” Rowan considered, then took a chance. “All is silt in the pond. It will settle and leave the waters clear.”

Coopla trembled as she dipped her head to Rowan. “Thank you.” She turned to Ryan. “Captain.”

“Show Rowan respect, and for my part, it is done.”

Coopla made a feeble paw-splashing gesture. “The news of a being such as Rowan swims a stream I am sadly familiar with. Knowing what she did for an entertainment, I was swimming in cloudy waters.”

“Remember, I didn’t know it was an entertainment until Ryan liberated me. What would you do to protect your world from pirates?” Rowan’s voice, if not friendly, held understanding.

“As you say, Rowan. I do need help caring for my people. I have been up all night.”

“We’ll take over feeding them. Have you located the bodies of the dead? I should move them onto the ship to minimize environmental contamination.” Ryan spoke softly.

Coopla groomed her muzzle, nearly dislodging the scab that had formed over her sore. “There is little risk of that.”

“Still.”

Coopla looked up with pleading eyes.

“Ryan, maybe let it go for now.” Rowan touched his arm.

“It needs to be taken care of.” Ryan looked confused.

Rowan looked to Coopla, then at the waste treatment facility. “I think it has been.”

Coopla groomed her muzzle. “You are perceptive for a female of any species.” She looked at Ryan. “It has been largely dealt with. I will let your own species deal with the details.”

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