Alex Shvartsman was first published in our pages last year, but the May/June 2019 issue [on sale now] contains his first Analog story written without a partner. We spoke with him about his solo writing process, the inspiration behind “Repairs at the Beijing West Space Elevator,” and much more.
Analog Editors: What is the story behind this piece?
Alex Shvartsman: In late 2017 I was approached by the Future Affairs Administration to write a story for their annual Lunar New Year’s Gala. Each year the FAA—a Chinese company dedicated to promotion and development of science fiction—hosts this gala by inviting a number of popular Chinese writers as well as several foreign authors and providing them with a prompt and a short deadline to write the story in. This time, the prompt was the Beijing West train station. The story was translated and initially appeared in Chinese, shared to several million readers via FAA’s social media accounts. I couldn’t think of a better home for this story in English than Analog.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
AS: I was asked to write about two things I wasn’t as familiar with as my intended audience: Beijing West train station (the busiest station in China) and Lunar New Year. No amount of research would make me an expert on those things, so like a good writer, I cheated. My version of the station is set in orbit, and my protagonist is a stranger who is approaching the Lunar New Year with a fresh perspective, same as I was doing as a writer.
I knew I wanted this to be a feel-good holiday story, yet distinctly different from the schlock Christmas specials we’re inundated with in December. I also wanted a very diverse set of characters to better reflect what the future Earth might look like. In fact, there happen to be no North American characters in this short story at all.
All these elements came together for me, allowing me to create a (hopefully) satisfying setting and a complete character arc in relatively few words.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
AS: Although this is not always possible, I’ve learned that the best short story titles mean one thing to the reader when they begin the story and take on a different meaning by the story’s end. I was especially pleased with how this title turned out, because the titular “Repairs” refer both to the technical problem facing our protagonist as well as with his improved outlook toward his homeland and humanity overall.
AE: What is your history with Analog?
AS: This is my second appearance on the venerable pages of Analog. Last year, my collaboration with Alvaro Zinos-Amaro about the future of self-driving cars, “The People v. Craig Morrison,” appeared in the July/August issue.
AE: What is the weirdest research rabbit-hole that working on a story has led you down?
AS: I once had to figure out how many people one would have to murder and exsanguinate in order to magically extract enough iron from their blood to smelt with carbon and forge into a sword. You may begin filing your order of protection at will . . .
AE: What is your process?
AS: An idea has to take root in my brain. I don’t start writing a story I thought of right away; instead I let it linger. If I forget the idea quickly, the readers probably would too. If it stays with me, it eventually gets written.
Before I sit down to write the first line I must know how the story begins, and how it ends. I virtually never begin writing a story without knowing the ending. This way, every scene I write must drive the story toward its conclusion in some way.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
AS: My current novel-in-process is The Coffee Corps, a comic fantasy that involves a popular New England coffee shop chain acting as a front for the secret organization dedicated to protecting the world from an invasion by the eldritch forces by using programmable magic. It’s Men in Black fueled by magic and coffee vs. Lovecraftian monsters. All interested publishers should get in touch.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
AS: Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth saga/Void Trilogy setting seems quite appealing. It’s a pretty realistic version of the far future that manages to be fascinating without the need for some all-out war or end-of-the-world calamity to keep up the tension of his stories. Plus, bonus immortality.
AE: What are you reading right now?
AS: Today I am Carey by Martin L. Shoemaker and Three Laws Lethal by David Walton.
AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?
AS: In addition to writing and editing, I also translate fiction from Russian. There are many amazing writers there, and I try to help share their work with anglophone readers. My short story translations have appeared or are forthcoming in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Apex, Samovar, and a number of other venues to date.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
AS: My website is www.alexshvartsman.com and I’m active on Twitter at @AShvartsman.