Friday, August 18, 2023

Six Questions for… Allan Dyen-Shapiro

[Editor’s note: “Six Questions for…” is a new feature we’re going to be giving a test run for the next few weeks. The idea is to go beyond the usual tiny author’s bio and give readers a better sense of who our authors are. If you think of a question you’d like us to ask, feel free to put it in the comments. We can’t guarantee the author will answer, but we’ll put it on the list of questions to ask in future profiles.]

Six Questions for… Allan Dyen-Shapiro

Allan Dyen-Shapiro is a Ph.D. biochemist currently working as an educator. He’s sold stories to numerous markets including Dark Matter Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and Grantville Gazette. He also co-edited an anthology of SFF set in the Middle East. He is a member of SFWA and Codex. You can find links to his published stories (and some freebies) as well as his blog, where he opines on matters of interest to those who might like his fiction (environmentalism, futurism, science, literature, and science fiction in all media), at Follow him on Twitter (@Allan_author_SF) and Mastodon (; friend him on Facebook ( 


Q: Who do you consider to be your most significant influence?

A: I'd have to say William Gibson. I didn't grow up reading science fiction. Sure, I read a lot of science-fiction adjacent authors like Kafka and Pynchon, but I grew up thinking about that as "literature." (Cue the chin rising in the air pretentiously and faux-British accent.) About 2001, I was heading for a vacation where I'd be staying with my in-laws and figured there'd be plenty of downtime, so I needed a book to bring. I happened to read that day in the New York Times a retrospective on this thing I'd never heard of called cyberpunk. The main name mentioned was Gibson's. So, I went to the local used bookstore, hoping to snag a copy of Neuromancer. They didn't have it. They did have All Tomorrow's Parties. When I read it, I was astounded. Somehow, without a science background, this author had written a main character that was doing my job. At the time, I was a biologist trying to deal with the enormous complexity of signaling pathways with very diverse types of data. My reputation depended on being able to keep an entire subfield of biology in my head, along with experimental details and how we were modeling it mathematically. Very few others could do this. Computers were not sufficiently advanced to do the sort of "assumption tracking" that I was doing in my head. Indeed, when I paired off with some of the world's top computer scientists and my engineering collaborators to write grants to fund trying to make software that would do what I was doing, we almost got funded. (Top grant in a joint NIH/NSF program that got nixed for political considerations, among other bad luck.) The only thing Gibson's protagonist had over me was a drug that enhanced his ability to synthesize a gestalt picture from disparate data. To me, that was the only science fiction element in the book, and it looked highly plausible that this drug could exist.

The thought occurred to me: I bet I could write this stuff. When changes to funding politics kicked me out of research, I began a concerted effort to read anything anyone suggested to me was good science fiction, beginning with cyberpunk. Once my career chaos phase ended with me holding a stable job (as a high school teacher), I put my first words to paper. (Okay, not literally—I can't read my handwriting, so, of course, I did it on a Mac.) It's not the 1980s, there are plenty of things that even the original cyberpunks no longer do because it would be dated, but there is a cyberpunk sensibility underlying all of my writing, even those pieces where it would not be readily apparent to a casual reader. 
And William Gibson is still  the only science fiction author where I've read everything he's written, although I've come close with Kim Stanley Robinson and Neal Stephenson.

Q: Of everything you’ve had published so far, which book or story of yours is the one you are most proud of? Where can readers find it?

A: This is a tough question, as I am proud of every story I ever sold (or tried to sell). If I had to pick the stories on which I've gotten the most positive feedback, I'd say there are three of the at-latest-count twenty-three I've sold that generated the most buzz. When the idea came into my head for software that puts social media posts into iambic pentameter, I spent a week laughing about it and knew I had to write a story around it. "Like Him with Friends Possess'd" ran in the December 2019 issue of Flash Fiction Online. Free link to the story here: "Side Effects" ran in the March/April 2023 issue of Dark Matter Magazine. It's simultaneously a hard SF story about psychiatric side effects of a medication, a soft SF story about quantum mechanics, and a comment on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Free link to the story here: "Kaddish for Stalin" is an alternate history story that imagines Stalin dying seven years earlier than he did, with de-Stalinization delayed until the 1980s. It is set in the present day, in Birobizdhan, in a Jewish homeland that in the real world was propaganda. It's a Prodigal Son returns story, centering on the conflict between a staunchly Stalinist and traditional older man and his son, a Beijing-based restaurateur, a capitalist, and gay. This ran in the anthology Other Covenants: Alternate Histories of the Jewish People, which can be purchased at all the usual places.

Q: What is your favorite beverage to drink while writing? 
A: Has anyone ever answered anything other than coffee? I'm not Hemmingway; his motto (write drunk; edit sober) would lead to garbage in my hands.

Q: How do you balance writing vs having a life?
A: It wasn't easy when I still had kids at home. They, the day job, and life's odds and ends all took higher priority. My advice: grow old. My kids are now gainfully employed, and money is much less tight than it used to be. I'm just over seven years from Medicare—that's when I'll be able to go full-time writer. Progress today is still slower than I'd like, but as long as things are moving forward, life is good.

Q: Your story, “Caliban’s Cameras,” which is coming September 1st in STUPEFYING STORIES 25: is there anything special you’re hoping readers will notice or appreciate in it?
A: Stylistically, I consider it the most William S. Burroughs-influenced thing I've ever written—I was going for a Naked Lunch-like feel with the cut-up style juxtaposition of vignettes that together made a story. Thematically, I'm hoping it isn't prescient. The Florida State Legislature nearly passed a bill last year that would have put cameras in every classroom. It never reached the final voting stage, so I guess this story is still science fiction. Unfortunately, this story, which you bought for Stupefying Stories in 2013, is still relevant politically. Speaking as a teacher in Florida, every alarm I was sounding then should today be ramped up in volume. 
2013 was before the current attacks on transgender individuals and the Governor's campaign to convince the world that slavery was hunky dory. For marginalized individuals in this state, it's too late for cautionary tales. Fascism has arrived (although, to paraphrase William Gibson, it's not evenly distributed). Still, I write mainly to jumpstart conversations that need to happen, and I think there's much in here that should be discussed, even if I should probably get working on a new story that addresses the most recent atrocities.

Q: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

A: I have a climate-fiction novella on submission. I have written a near-future science fiction novel, but I paused my agent querying for the pandemic, deciding to make a big splash in shorter fiction before I resumed it. I'm still splashing. Lots and lots of short stories are somewhere in the pipeline. 

Q: Any closing words for readers?
A: Check out my website—blog, original stories found only there, links to published stories.