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Interview with Stephanie Barr

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Welcome to this week’s interview with Stephanie Barr about her series  Bete Novels  the Beast Within and Nine Lives.

Her stories are a bit different from my other interviewees, as she combines space travel, magic and shape shifters. Let’s see how.

What was the most surprising thing you found out while researching/writing your latest book?

Well, not to sound too arrogant but I rarely write about aspects of science I haven’t dabbled in already. I pick up a good bit from my job (I’m a rocket scientist) and then I’ll do research on whatever I don’t already know or don’t know as well as I’d like to as I start world-building etc.

Since the Bete novels take place on a life-filled lush new planet, I had to study up on biology and chemistry so that I could do speculative biology without spitting in the face of believable science (except for the fact my MCs are shapeshifters).

Biology is always full of surprises so I always learn cool new stuff. I really really wanted to use amoebic meningitis to infect my MC from Beast Within in Nine Lives since it thrives in hot water, not cold, and is almost always fatal because the amoebas literally eat your brain (but talk your brain into letting them). Good old naegleria fowleri. But my medical friend insisted that surviving wouldn’t leave you with a viable brain so I had to settle for regular viral meningitis (which is bad enough); even so, the original environment and circumstances lent themselves well to my settings and concept and actually let several things fall into place so it worked out better anyway. That always surprises me.

Why did you choose this setting?

Usually, I actually start with characters and a situation then build a world around them. In the case of the Bete novels, I had wanted to play with bigotry that was inherently self-destructive in the short term (as I think it is in the long term) and so I isolated my reviled group in with “normal” people in an environment where the inherent skills and capabilities of the reviled group

The reviled group, in my case, are psychics and/or shapeshifters that are treated as demons by the more backwater of the “normal” people. (I built their origin planet as a mixture of more primitive/more advanced). But they are also the best bet for surviving for this stranded group on a hostile planet.

The cool part of this is the playing with speculative biology, a bit of orbital mechanics and ship-building (fun stuff), booby traps, etc.

What’s unique about your world?

I have some interesting critters, like the Klixit, which are much like man-sized ants but with the same social structure as the tiny kind. I have the planet they land on as a binary planet, rather than a regular moon which leaves me with options for some killer tides and other effects since they aren’t always the same distance apart. I bring in “shipcats” which are telepathic, highly intelligent (and snarky) oversized cats who also have toxic venom.

Not sure that’s all unique, but it does make for some interesting scenarios.

How real do you think the science is in your book?

Well, I tout it as fantasy/science fiction for a good reason. My shapeshifters, of course, aren’t really scientifically sound and that goes for many of their psychic powers. However, beyond that, I’m pretty comfortable with the science. There’s some speculative science in there, but nothing out of keeping with what we know now. Tesseracts aren’t considered impossible (how they stumbled on the planet) and provides some explanation why the flora and fauna of this planet are not incompatible with the refugees. Survival skills, biology, chemistry—I think most of that’s pretty sound as well as the set up for the mechs and the ship.

What did you include that you wish was real today?

More effective space travel, of course. [Personally I agree]  The mechs are cool. We could do them today, but not as smoothly. I like the little fusion power supply. And, of course, I’d love a shipcat.

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