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Biography of Author Alex Shvartsman

Dark Expanse: Surviving The Collapse

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 interviews author Alex Shvartsman, contributor to the anthology Dark Expanse: Surviving The Collapse

Alex Shvartsman

Dominoes Falling

10-30-2014: interviews Alex Shvartsman, contributor to the anthology Dark Expanse: Surviving The Collapse, author of the short story Dominoes Falling.

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 development?

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 projects.

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 someday.

MilSciFi: Most authors we encounter write novellas/novels, do you write short stories, and if so do you find it a challenge?

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 author's writing.

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 works?

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 magazine.

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.

Alex Shvartsman's website:


FTC 16 CFR Part 255 Discloser:
Solicited by Author / with no compensation.


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