12-21-2014: MilSciFi.com interviews William Snee and Alex Shvartsman,
the editors to shared universe anthology Dark Expanse: Surviving The Collapse.
MilSciFi: Welcome. Please tell us a little something about your anthology.
Snee: Dark Expanse: Surviving the Collapse is a
collection of stories set in the Dark Expanse universe. A number of talented award-winning authors
were able to provide depth and insight into this unique shared universe. The 18
stories cover a number of races, missions and settings within the game. The
stories range from humorous to serious, on planet and off.
MilSciFi: What inspired you to put this anthology together?
Snee: While at the PhilCon science fiction
convention, Alex and I began discussing potential
marketing efforts for the game. Additionally, there was a need for more
exposure and racial background narratives.
Alex informed me that we could hire
professional level writers at a reasonable rate.
So through Alex's contacts, I was able to hire a number of writers. The quality of the work was so good, that I
kept buying stories even though I had the racial background pieces which were
the main concern. Buying the additional
stories, I made a decision to publish the anthology as a device to let people
know about the game.
Shvartsman: Like Bill said, I see tremendous value in
developing the world of the game further through storytelling. And, even at
professional rates, short fiction is dirt-cheap as compared to most other ways
to spend marketing dollars. I was able to introduce Bill to a number of excellent authors who
were excited to write stories in the world of Dark Expanse. It was a win-win
for everyone involved. And once there was enough material to work with,
anthology seemed like the natural next step.
MilSciFi: How did you find and/or recruit the authors of your anthology?
Shvartsman: I generally like to have open submission
calls, but for this project, because of the shared world nature, I didn't want
to make a lot of hopeful submitters write Dark Expanse stories on spec, so we
limited the opportunity to a relatively small group of professionally-published
I reached out to several headliners to see who might be
interested, and was able to recruit my good friend Ken Liu (who is a Hugo and Nebula award winner and one of the
hottest writers currently in the genre). Additionally I provided the "World
Bible" document that Bill created to a number of neo-pro authors on a private forum, and
then they could send their writing samples and pitches to Bill. That's how we recruited most of our
MilSciFi: Since this was a shared universe anthology, just how much freedom
and/or control did you have over your authors?
Snee: Since Dark Expanse is a real-time
strategy game, where the player is either the imperial leader or fleet
commander, most of the action takes place at the strategic level. Since most narratives take place between people,
there was little conflict between the stories and the game mechanics. The writers were asked to make use of the
game world races and if possible utilize in-game actions as much as possible
within their stories.
Prior to writing a story, the authors were asked to write a
small story pitch. This pitch allowed
the developers to identify any potential conflicts with the game
mechanics. Any decision that became a
story restriction was added to the Dark Expanse World Bible as future guidance.
One of the tools we used was a shared workspace on the Dark
Expanse forum. This allowed the writers
to ask questions and share ideas with the developers and other writers. The combined group was able to flush out a
number of concepts that were needed for the stories. Each story was reviewed to
make sure they did not conflict with any game mechanics.
Shvartsman: Since Bill is the ultimate expert on the world of
Dark Expanse as its original creator, I followed his lead when it came to
continuity and making sure the writers don't break any of the game setting
rules. He was both lenient and generous with his time. There were a number of
important restrictions (for example, there's no time travel in DE) but mostly
authors had plenty of creative freedom to explore various aspects of the game's
Part of the fun was using characters and worlds from each
others' stories. I set my own story on the world created by Nancy Fulda, and then two of the authors used the
federation I created in their stories.
MilSciFi: Does science and technology play an important role in this project
(or in your work in general), or is it secondary to the story telling and
Snee: Within the Dark Expanse game, we try to
adhere to real-life science and restrictions as much as we can. However, we regularly break the rules to
provide more entertaining gameplay. This
also holds true for the anthology. Many
of the stories created by the various authors have helped to flush out and
define the universe. These include some
technical details and racial descriptions that had not previously been
MilSciFi: Most authors we encounter write novellas/novels; so if an author
went over his word count, would you expand the project to accommodate them, or
require them to do hard edits to cut back on the length?
Snee: To help manage cost, most writers were
given a hard word limit for their stories.
Occasionally, on an individual basis, should the story demand it, that
limit was extended. Upon occasion, a few
of the writers exceeded the limit, but not by much. As a general rule, we accepted those stories
with the additional text.
Shvartsman: In most cases the authors were able to
deliver their stories within the requested word count. Since Bill was a bit flexible on the length, I was
able to work with the authors to expand or cut as needed to produce the best
possible story. We didn't have anyone who went over the word count by so much
that it presented a real problem.
MilSciFi: Do you have plans to expand upon this anthology, such as novels
based on the individual stories?
Snee: Yes, Deborah Walker is currently developing a standalone
novel called "As Good as Bad Can Get". This story grew out of a concept for a racial
story about the game's unaligned races. Deborah and I originally discussed the concept
and quickly realized that there were too many ideas around the story to
restrict it to just a short story. We
were able to come to an agreement, and Deborah began writing.
We have received a number of comments that many people wish
the stories had continued. Should time
and finances permit, we may look at taking a few of the stories and expanding
them to full books.
MilSciFi: Who published your anthology?
Snee: The anthology was published by Deorc
Enterprise, the creators of Dark Expanse.
The e-book is exclusively available on Amazon at this time:
Shvartsman: You can also sample some of the stories
at the Deorc web site: www.deorc.com.
MilSciFi: What advice would you give someone considering putting together an
Snee: Plan lots of time for reading, editing
and selecting the stories for your anthology.
Additionally, if the anthology has a theme, have the cover art created
prior to the writers submitting the stories.
This helps the writers to visualize and get a taste of where the
anthology is going. Be clear on the
types of stories for which you are looking and those you are not seeking.
Shvartsman: Start out by finding a unique concept.
There are so many space opera anthologies, urban fantasy anthologies, etc. that
you will have a difficult time standing out in the crowd unless your list of
authors is truly astounding. However, if you come up with an intriguing concept
that alone may sell the reader on trying out the book.
Once you have your concept, reach out to the best authors
you think you can entice and get tentative commitments from them. Just like a Hollywood movie, the anthology will have an easier
time getting attention if it has several popular headliners attached.
Also, please do not add to the noise by trying to produce
yet another e-book only, royalties-only anthology. Those virtually never succeed.
If you can't afford to pay your contributors a reasonable rate for their
stories, and having a reasonable budget to advertise and otherwise promote the
anthology, consider holding off until such a time when you do. (And there's
always Kickstarter, but that's a whole other conversation.)
MilSciFi: What advantages are there for an author becoming involved in an
Snee: The author can write a shorter work with
a faster completion time. Lesser-known
authors can get exposure and the reader gets to try a variety of potentially
new authors. Just like a box of
chocolates, you never know what you'll get.
Shvartsman: Most authors welcome new opportunities to
submit their work and, hopefully, have their work accepted, published and then
read. The more popular/high-profile the anthology, the more valuable it is for
the writers involved. Anthology and other short fiction sales are a great way
to build up a resume, build a fan/reader base, and sharpen one's storytelling
MilSciFi: Who is your single-most influential author in science fiction, and
what impact have they had on our own work?
Snee: There are two primary writers that have
impacted Dark Expanse. They are Jack Campbell, the author of The Lost Fleet series and
David Weber, the author of the Honorverse series.
While Alex and I like many different science
fiction authors, these two best represent the feel and style of the Dark
Expanse game. The game genre is
primarily based on fleet versus fleet combat at its core. There are a number of other in-game actions
that can be taken, but for most players, the fleet combat is the key event.
Shvartsman: As Bill mentioned, he and I like to read very
different books. I enjoy novels that lean further to the "space opera"
end of the spectrum when it comes to military SF. Some great examples of this
are the Old Man's War series by John Scalzi, Cobra books by Timothy Zahn, and the Deathstalker novels by Simon R. Green.
MilSciFi: What is the one thing you find the most difficult about working in
military science fiction?
Snee: Whether in a story or within the game,
fleet combat is always the most difficult thing to represent. Combat has so many different variables that
can impact the outcome, they are hard to capture if both story and game. The "reality" of the combat is also
difficult to represent, there is a balance between the mundane and
entertainment. Too much reality, and the
story and game slow down, but too much fantasy and things quickly become
unbelievable. Therefore, finding that balance is always a challenge.
Shvartsman: For me the challenge was to avoid the
clichés. I didn't want people to read the anthology and say "this is just
like Star Wars" or "this is just like The Lost Fleet." I wanted
there to be a distinct Dark Expanse flavor and pushed the authors toward it.
This isn't, strictly speaking, a "military SF" challenge but rather
an intellectual property challenge for any space opera-style game universe, but
I hope the direction Bill and I provided to the authors allowed us to succeed in making the
DE stories feel fresh.
MilSciFi: Do you have any other related projects, either in the works or in
the world at this time?
William: Deborah Walker has written a standalone book entitled As Good as Bad Can Get that will be
released in early 2015. In this book,
she expands upon one of the unaligned races and the Logorasch Invasion. The Logorasch invasion is one of the periodic
game events. She provides the reader
with a greater understanding of why the normally peaceful Logorasch intermittently
surge forth and invade neighboring planets.
Klyve Ganthe is a
Kyoti, a race of liars, tricksters and con artists. As the Corona Corporation
abandons the planet Nimbas, suddenly Klyve finds himself in charge.
Armed with his wits, a
telepathic adviser, and a nagging mother-in-law, Klyve must struggle to
bring together the disgruntled factions to keep Nimbas from being overrun by
the Logorasch swarm.
A Planet on the Edge
of Chaos. Can Klyve make Nimbas As Good as Bad Can Get?
Shvartsman: As author, I have my short story
collection Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma
and Other Stories coming out on February 1, 2015. As editor, I am already working on Unidentified Funny Objects 4 (due out
September or October 2015) and have at least one other project in the works
that I am not ready to announce, but am nevertheless excited about.
MilSciFi: Do you have a website?
Snee: Dark Expanse can be found at http://deorc.com
which has the book listed on our recommended reading and merchandise pages.
Shvartsman: My website is www.alexshvartsman.com
MilSciFi: Thank you, for your time.