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West Virginia author’s sci-fi thriller begins in Marlinton

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

It’s 2029. Domestic terrorists have polluted most of the waterways in the United States and freshwater is a precious commodity. The Greenbrier River in Marlinton has remained pure and is one of the few freshwater resources left.

So begins the new novel, “Dr. One,” by West Virginia Wesleyan College professor Peter Galarneau, Jr.

Galarenau explaines the premise by saying the misguided decisions by individuals, businesses and the government lead to a future where clean water is scarce and people are controlled by technology.

“It’s not quite apocalyptic,” he said. “It’s not dystopian, yet. I tell people that it’s the moments in the future before we might go dystopian. In twenty-five years, lots of things are happening, and it’s the choices of the people and the choices of the businesses and the government at the time, that if we continue to let this happen, we might just go dystopian.”

Galarenau said he chose to base part of the book in Marlinton for several reasons – one being that, as a West Virginian, he wants to use the state as the base for his stories.

“I decided about five years ago that all my stories from now on, I think, are going to be set somewhere in West Virginia in some way,” he said. “I kind of take that from my favorite author, Steven King, who pretty much sets most of his stuff up in Maine at Castle Rock.”

Marlinton was also an ideal place because of its rural location and access to the Greenbrier River.

“Several years ago, I was in Marlinton on the Greenbrier Trail and I’m an avid bike rider, so that kind of stuck with me, the experience that I had on the trail, but for a bigger reason, that it’s right next to the Greenbrier River, of course, and in the future, in 2029 according to my story, domestic terrorist take out the aquifers in the southwest and the middle part of the country, poisoning those waters and creating a national water crisis.

“Years after that, freshwater becomes something to be desired and people start moving toward where freshwater sources are. So a lot of people migrate from the west and southwest to places like around the Great Lakes and places in the rural areas like West Virginia,” he continued.

In the book, Marlinton has once again been flooded, but this time, the town has been washed out and officials decide to turn the town into a beach-style destination, promoting the freshwater to vacationers and those wanting to get away from the big cities and the control technology has over them.

“The Greenbrier River in the future becomes a major vacation spot because people are moving – they’re moving to the big freshwater places,” Galarneau said. “The big cities are being controlled by a lot of the corporations who are requiring that you have to give up your personal information and privacy to live there.”

While Marlinton has become the place to go and looks more like a beach town than a small city, life isn’t ideal. The main character, 18-year-old Shawn Winston, is two days from graduating Pocahontas County High School when he discovers his neighbor, Dr. One, dead. Winston decides to find out what has happened and begins a journey which takes him from his rural home to a large city known as New Pitt.

Along the way, Winston meets Dr. One’s niece who is a computer scientist at the Green Bank Observatory. With her help, Winston seeks answers.

“What we do, we travel with Shawn on his mountain bike, up the Greenbrier Trail and he hitches a ride with a friend of his over to Green Bank and they go up on top of the ‘Great Big Thing’ there,” Galarneau said. “I call it the ‘Great Big Thing’ in the book. [Wintson and the niece] end up traveling to a place called New Pitt and that’s Pittsburgh of the future. It’s in Pittsburgh where they discover what really happened to Dr. One.”

As Galarneau takes the two on a journey from one extreme to the next, he wanted to make the transition mirror the transition a lot of West Virginia’s youth find themselves taking as they make the decision to leave their rural home to find jobs in larger cities or out-of-state.

“Talk about a transition, from rural life here and the really accelerated techno world that New Pittsburgh becomes,” he said. “Everyone in the city is controlled by virtual reality, so this poor Shawn Winston who never really wanted to leave West Virginia, just like so many – that problem we have here in West Virginia when you graduate, you feel compelled to leave the state and go do something else. Shawn’s not like that. He wants to stay here, but when he finds this doctor dead and he hooks up with his niece, he is compelled to get out of West Virginia, go investigate what happened and when he get to New Pittsburgh, he’s changed.”

“Dr. One” is Galarneau’s fifth novel although has been writing for much longer.

“I’ve been writing since I was a teenager,” he said. “I had several short stories published in some small publication magazines back in the 90s before all the small pubs kind of died out. I was involved in that a lot in the 90s, but then I became a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College and that kind of took me away from that short story writing and then I found a love in novel writing and the long form just kind of stuck with me.”

Galarneau has tried his hand at many genres and tries not to stick to just one. He has written teen fiction, thrillers, mysteries and now, science fiction, but he says “Dr. One” is the kind of book that can’t be reduced to just one category.

While he calls the book science fiction, it also has plenty of thrills, mystery and even a touch of romance.

“It’s hard for me to categorize the novels I write sometimes because I put in them several different aspects of genre,” Galarneau said. “You could easily put thriller and mystery in this. I chose sci-fi because it had some tech spins to it in the near future, but it’s not hard sci-fi at all. Everything is relatable to what we’re doing right now in our world and what I’m trying to do with the novel, quite frankly, is to warn people.”

The warning Galarneau wants his readers to heed is that you need to be careful what you put online about yourself. It’s hard to tell how that information can be used against you in the future.

“Be careful what you’re doing in the online world because although it may seem to be innocent right now and companies are using your information basically to sell you stuff. In the future, it’s quite possible – and as we’ve seen in recent news – that big companies will use this data.

“In the future, who knows what they can do with it.”

“Dr. One” is available online at most book stores as well as on Galarneau’s website, www.petergalarneau.com

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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