10-30-2014: MilSciFi.com interviews Alex Shvartsman, contributor to the
anthology Dark Expanse: Surviving The Collapse, author of the short story
MilSciFi: Welcome. Please tell us a little
something about your story.
Shvartsman: My story, "Dominoes Falling,"
takes place shortly after what later becomes known as the Collapse. The alien
overlords called the Zyxlar are suddenly gone, leaving the many races they'd
enslaved to fend for themselves. New federations and alliances are being formed
as the balance of power in the galaxy is re-settling. The protagonist is a
security chief for one of the planets, and he's obsessed with the galaxy's most
important secret: where have the Zyxlar gone, why, and--most importantly--will
they be returning?
MilSciFi: Since this was a shared universe project,
just how much freedom did you have in your story concept and/or character
Shvartsman: As with any shared world story, it's
important not to break everyone else's toys. You don't want to do anything that
alters the basic foundations of the universe; what makes it work and how.
Fortunately, universe is also a big place. There are lots of new planets you can
take your characters to, new alien species to discover, etc. In that sense I felt like I had plenty of
freedom and the rules I had to play by when telling my story aren't much
different from the rules I set for myself when worldbuilding for any of my other
MilSciFi: What inspired you to write this story?
Shvartsman: Since I was a co-editor for this
anthology, I knew there were certain areas not already covered by the stories
we had come in. I was especially interested in exploring the traumatic changes
to the societies of the galaxy that their sudden liberation from the Zyxlar
overlords had initiated. Plus, I wanted a story that involved a fleet of ships
attacking a planetary target defended by an orbital station. And I always enjoy
lots of politics and maneuvering in my space operas, so I liked writing that
into the story as well.
MilSciFi: Does science and technology play an
important role in this story (or in your work in general), or is it secondary
to the story telling and characterization?
Shvartsman: I think it's a fairly even mix. There
need to be cool gadgets, cool aliens, mysterious artifacts or what have you to
make for a great SF adventure story. But it all falls apart without interesting
characters the reader can love (or love to hate.) I try to strike the right
balance in each of my stories, and it's really up to the reader to decide
whether I'm succeeding.
MilSciFi: Do you have plans to expand upon, or
write other works based on this short story?
Shvartsman: I don't have any such plans at this time,
but you never know! I do so enjoy coming back to the worlds of my stories to
write something new, and I can see myself writing another Dark Expanse story
MilSciFi: Most authors we encounter write
novellas/novels, do you write short stories, and if so do you find it a
Shvartsman: For me, the real challenge is to write
novels. I haven't ever finished one yet (though I started a couple). Short
stories, on the other hand, are where I live. The shorter the story, the more
comfortable I am writing it. Flash is my specialty!
MilSciFi: Since time is of the essence for getting
a reader up to speed in a short story, do you have a strategy, or preferred
method for doing this?
Shvartsman: One of the common mistakes I see in both
short story and novel writing is to rush the setup. You don't have to do that.
Just tell an interesting story and intersperse bits and pieces of the
background throughout the story. It's OK for the reader not to know EVERYTHING
about the world you're writing in right away. So long as you can hook them with
the story you're telling, they will be happy to learn the exposition stuff
along the way.
MilSciFi: What advice would you give the aspiring
military science fiction writer?
Shvartsman: Don't worry overmuch about the labels;
don't force your story into a "military SF" box or a "space
opera" box or any other box. Just tell the best story you can, and worry
about how to market it later.
MilSciFi: Do you think there is any advantage to
having your work in an anthology?
Shvartsman: As a reader I always found anthologies to
be a great method of auditioning new authors. I'd pick them up based on a
couple of authors I was already a fan of having their work included, or based
on an interesting theme. I would them seek out other stories and novels from
the authors whose stories in that anthology I really liked.
Similarly, I feel having your story
published in a well-read market -- be it an anthology or a magazine -- is
helpful because it exposes one's work to readers who might not already be
familiar with it and might not have bought a book containing only that one
MilSciFi: Who is your single-most influential
author in science fiction, and what impact did that have on our own work?
Shvartsman: Unfair! I want to name a dozen people
here and not just one. If I absolutely had to pick, I'd have to go with either Fredric Brown or Robert Sheckley. But ask me on another day, and I might
name Harry Harrison, Simon R. Green, Joan Vinge, Clifford Simak, Mike Resnick, Bob Silverberg and half-dozen others. And that's not
even counting the Russian-language authors!
MilSciFi: What is the one thing you find the most
difficult about writing military science fiction?
Shvartsman: I don't consider anything I write to be
military science fiction, not really. Although there are some space battles and
other cool military stuff in some of my stories, I prefer to write the flip
side of the conflict coin: politics! The greatest challenge there is to create
fresh, original points of tension for the sides to argue over and avoid
transplanting modern American politics (or any of the common historical
conflicts) too obviously into the story.
MilSciFi: Is military science fiction the only
thing you write, or is there something else out there we should be looking for?
Shvartsman: I write every kind of speculative fiction
except for outright horror. I'd say my specialty are humorous and lighthearted
stories, and I prefer writing space opera and urban fantasy over the other
sub-genres. But I have stories that are every type, from dark fantasy, to hard
SF, to alternate history.
MilSciFi: Do you have any other projects in the
Shvartsman: I'm currently working on a story for The
Sargasso Containment, which is another shared universe project, spearheaded by
Mike Resnick. You can read the first couple of the Sargasso stories in the
November issue of Galaxy's Edge
I'm also working with the book designer
and copy editor on putting the finishing touches onto my collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other
Stories, which is coming out February 1, 2015 in trade paperback and e-book formats.
I'm also working on a secondary-world
fantasy novel Eridani's Crown, which
I like to explain as brutal politics of Game of Thrones meet the character arc
of Breaking Bad.
MilSciFi: Do you have any upcoming author events?
Shvartsman: I'll be on a bunch of panels at PhilCon,
and I'm looking to set up author events and readings in February to help
promote the release of my collection.
MilSciFi: We thank you for your time.