As an oil patch medic, Tony Stark has spent countless hours parked in a truck in the middle of the bush. When the work comes, it’s sudden, frantic—a burn or an injury that needs treating, a wound that needs bandaging.
The rest of the time?
“The rest of the time you’re essentially getting paid to keep an eye on people,” he said. “And you learn human characteristics, the personalities of all the workers.”
That time, he uses to create new worlds.
Stark has been in and out of the oil patch for most of his adult life. He’s also a science fiction writer and publisher, whose Starklight Press, while still modest, has six regular writers and print runs that sell out at conventions around Canada. Though small, it’s a legitimate publishing house — copyrights, ISBN numbers, a prefix with the Canadian Library Association, the works.
He runs the press with his wife Virginia Carraway-Stark.
Her first novel is Dalton’s Daughter, an autobiography written from the point of view of a character in Stark’s Galactic Armed Forces universe. Starklight’s sixth book, it sold out of its 400 copy run.
What’s it about? Best to let Stark tell it:
“It’s a science fiction universe where corporations settle the galaxy, just after an alien race took humanity under it’s wing to inherit its galactic empire. This alien race is at the end of its life, and it needed someone to with the mindset to take it over. Humanity finds itself caught between a variety of corporate and salacious, hedonistic, and idealistic interests. There’s one girl from this resource planet, not entirely unlike the environment of Dawson Creek, who grows up to achieve great things.”
The oil patch/science fiction parallel is something Stark thinks about a lot.
He grew up in the Yukon, his father an engineer/bush pilot, his mother a native of Italy who made and sold perfumes.
His father worked in the extractive industries when he wasn’t flying — trips that sound like hops between planets in a shuttlecraft. Stark’s first step in Dawson Creek was onto tarmac — on a “grasshopper” flight in his dad’s DeHavilland Beaver “down to more civilized parts.” When he was 18, he briefly worked as a heavy equipment mechanic in Fort St. John.
When his parents passed away, he returned to Georgia, USA, his dad’s homeland. He studied electrical engineering at Georgia Tech before leaving to work as a medic on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. That was when the “science fiction aspect” of the oil industry first struck him.
“People go out to the middle of nowhere, which is a completely inhospitable environment half the year up here,” he said. “They drop a world into it — complete with exercise bikes and roast beef and soda pop, everything. Structurally, other than the fact that we have a common atmosphere, it’s no different from an asteroid, where you’d be mining it, or a planet where you’d be terraforming it.”
He spent time travelling the U.S. and South America, developing the Galactic Armed Forces universe and expanding it on an online forum. There, he met his wife, who grew up in Arras.
“I left America and wandered back up this way to marry her, before someone snatched her up,” he said.
Since then, he’s worked as a medic. The nastiest injury he’s treated in the B.C. oil patch was a scalp laceration. In Georgia, he cleaned up after a rig blowout.
“That was bad,” he said. “They were doing completions work [on a fracking rig] and a spark caught and it was a total blow out. That was years ago. There were casualties, triage, medics coming in from all over.”
One of Stark’s regular writers is Will Norton, who works on the rigs. His latest piece of speculative fiction, set in Fort St. John, “is about a rig pig who picks up an alien hitchhiker. It’s very ‘X-Files.’”
Stark wants to put down roots in the Peace. The plan is to buy a press and print books locally. The books sell reasonably online and on the convention circuit. As it stands, his cheapest option is to print in Ohio and have the books shipped. He and Virginia are planning a pair of historical books about the Peace Country—and are currently collecting non-fiction short stories for an anthology on the region.
In the meantime, Stark expects to keep working in oil and gas, and dreaming up new worlds. “It’s a great way to be a student of people for writing,” he said.