George Matiasz likes creating other worlds.
The 70-year-old author published his first book, End Time: Notes on the Apocalypse (1994), set in the near future—1997—but still created an SF world of his own design. What followed were three books set in a different world he created—1% Free, its prequel, The Death of David Pickett, and now, Dusted By Stars, which Kirkus Reviews calls “a brisk…yarn that will still appeal to old and young space-action fans.”
In Dusted By Stars, Earth is in the process of dying, and the human race has to move to other places in the solar system, including Mars. A cargo hauler named Stacey is the protagonist, traveling the solar system to make deliveries. Eventually, Medea—yes, that Medea—commissions Stacey to transport what is basically the Holy Grail, and Stacey embarks on a galactic adventure to get the relic delivered safely. “I wanted to make it very action-packed, with Medea, an alien, and Stacey all involved in various adventures,” Matiasz says from his home in San Francisco.
Though Matiasz made his living as an IT professional, he’s no stranger to SF or to writing. “I’ve always had an interest in SF in terms of pulp science fiction. Starting with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Heinlein—there’re a million different SF authors I’ve been reading since I was probably 12 years old,” he says. “Then, of course, [there] were the movies and television shows. I was interested when Star Trek first came out, and even before that, there was The Outer Limits and other books, movies, and TV shows that I got engrossed in watching and reading.”
Matiasz, who calls himself a “late hippie and early punk,” began writing and self-publishing his work through an underground newspaper around 1968. Years of writing followed, including a regular gig as a columnist for Maximumrocknroll, a punk rock magazine that folded in 2019.
“I never made a living writing, although I earned a little money in 1994 with a book I published through a small press,” he says. That book was End Time, and other SF books followed. “To me, SF is just future history,” Matiasz explains. “I try to deal with that in the same way a historian would deal with past history, including the sociology, economics, and politics of that future world.
“I try to do some mapping out of the world itself,” he continues. “I’ve done timelines using a variety of notebooks. Basically, I sketch out a future history for each book I have. That history is day by day or year by year, depending on how long the book is.”
In Dusted By Stars, Matiasz has created a flawed but memorable lead character in Stacey, who, as the narrator of the book, does a good job describing herself:
Funny me being such a booster of Martian socialism when I was in such an individualistic occupation. I had my Interstellar Solidarity of Teamsters union card, but I also had my pride and independence. In short, I didn’t work well with others. Truckers, freight haulers, and pilots like me, it’s like corralling dark energy or lassoing the solar wind to get us to cooperate.
Though Matiasz imbued Stacey with a lot of independence as a fierce female protagonist, it has given the ardent feminist pause for thought. “This is one of those dilemmas that I’ve had, being a kind of left-leaning progressive person in my politics,” he says. “Am I actually supposed to write female characters, being a man? I thought I might get a lot of grief from my fellow progressives, that I have no right to write a female character, but it was an attempt by me to work with characters I’m unfamiliar with entirely.”
Stacey’s saga in Dusted By Stars ends with what the author calls “a transcendent experience.” “It’s a supernatural or religious experience, depending on your beliefs,” he says. “Stacey experiences a revelation and goes on to deal with the other characters.”
Dusted By Stars is being published with a reprint of Matiasz’s The Death of David Pickett included. The reason for the addition was twofold: for publicity purposes and to have enough pages to make a book purchase worthwhile. “It was an attempt by me to do a freebie, to generate interest in my brand and my previous books,” he says. “But also, both of the books are…novellas, and the two together were long enough to publish.”
A key part of Dusted By Stars is its artwork, which isn’t surprising since Matiasz has designs on writing a graphic novel. This isn’t it, but it is filled with John Hunt’s lush depictions of the world and the characters that the author created. “He has been my go-to illustrator since I started writing 1% Free and The Death of David Pickett,” Matiasz states. “I gave him a paragraph or two to use as a starting-off point. I like to give him a sense of the plot and character, but I rarely interfere with the illustrations he does. For the character of Stacey, I said I wanted her to have short hair, but that’s about it.”
It’s not a spoiler to say Dusted By Stars ends with Stacey alive and well and positioned to appear in future books. It’s something Matiasz will do if he has time. “I’m 70 years old and have been writing all my life, but I also feel like I have a limited amount of time going forward to continue writing,” he says. “Maybe I have enough years to write a really big book.”
That book right now is about Mexico City in 1968. The work of historical fiction will include real news events of that year, including the 1968 Olympics, where Black athletes raised their fists in political defiance, and the October massacre of students in Mexico City’s main plaza. “So my next book will be this historical novel, but I do plan to do other novels in the same universe as Dusted By Stars,” Matiasz says.
Alec Harvey, a former president of the Society for Features Journalism, is a freelance writer based in Alabama.