by Stewart Gross
Scott Stein of Langhorne, a teacher of creative writing at Drexel University’s Department of English and Philosophy, has just published his third novel, a satiric comedy entitled “The Great American Deception.”
The story is a futuristic sleuth story, as Scott puts it, “in the tradition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.”
Detective Frank Harkin, the story’s protagonist is hired by a client to find her missing sister.
She hasn’t heard from her sister in one day and doesn’t go ten minutes without connecting to her through social media in a very near future America that strongly resembles our own.
The main science fiction twist is that Harkin’s Watson is Arjay, a coffee machine bot who serendipitously meets Harkin. The two team up to solve the case.
Android Arjay is the first person narrator of Stein’s story.
Scott says the setting in near future America is “very confined and crowded. There are hints that it is a dystopian future. The book does not provide exposition about it, but implies that American society is a mess. There could have been a civil war and the country is broken-up into independent areas. Life is a mess.”
Scott completed the bulk of the story between 2013 and 2016, and specifies that his setting “is not intended to be a direct commentary on what is happening in the United States now politically, and has no references whatsoever to a pandemic. The book only briefly alludes to the setting and is incidental to the central detective story.”
Reviews of the book, particularly Kirkus, draw a lot of comparisons with Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
When I asked Scott if the comparison was valid, he responded, “I was not trying to create a science fiction novel on purpose, but I am flattered by the comparison to Douglas Adams. I have read his books, and I am a satirist in a lot of my writing. I certainly poke fun at our preoccupation with social media in this novel for instance.”
He continued, “This book more closely models a Philip Marlow noir detective story and sets it in the future. I thought of Arjay as a fun futuristic contraption to add novelty to my story. ”
At the center of Stein’s writing has been satire.
His last novel, “Mean Martin Manning,” is abouta grumpy old man, who hasn’t left his apartment or had any human contact in 30 years.
He just wants to be left alone, wear his bathrobe, and watch TV all day.
He means no one harm, but has to battle social workers and judges who seek to “better him.”
So the book pokes fun at all of the “do gooders” who invade our lives daily with THEIR concept of how to improve us.
“’Lost,’ my first novel is a comedy set in New York City about a man who is wanderingand trying to figure out his destiny. He keeps having comical and strange encounters with people. It makes fun of the insanity of everyday life living in cities, such as talking car alarms.”
Scott says that he was deeply influenced by the comic writers like Adams, especially British writer P.G. Woodhouse and his classic, “The Code of the Woosters.”
The comic Jeeves the Butler stories emerged out of this. “They write in their own voice and are trying to be entertaining as possible, they go for every joke they can.”
Scott says that, “In my writing, I am trying to have fun. I don’t play by the rules of any one genre. I start with the premise that I’m going to have fun here and make it fun for the reader.”
When Scott is not writing his own novels and short stories, he is influencing a future generation of writers.
He has been teaching at Drexel for 20 years and was the lead editor of the Drexel Publishing Group with its well-known anthology, “33rd”, which publishes student and faculty writing each year.
PHOTO CAP: Scott Stein with his “The Great American Deception”