OGDEN, Utah – When Weber State University history professor Eric Swedin tells his students the only real failure is not trying, he speaks with authority. Swedin just published his 11th book, despite limited financial reward and a brain aneurysm that nearly took his life.
His latest novel, “Seeking Valhalla,” published this spring, is a retro science fiction novel set in 1945 Germany. In it, Maj. John Carter and Sgt. Carson Napier embark on a quest to find Valhalla, with its tree of power that will allow them to fight the forces of Nazi evil.
“It’s a rollicking adventure like the kind Edgar Rice Burroughs used to write,” Swedin explained. “When I was about 12 years old, I discovered a pile of science fiction novels that my uncle, who had passed away, had left. My grandma allowed me to take those novels and read them all. That’s when I fell in love with classic science fiction.”
Swedin writes science fiction and attends science fiction conventions yearly, but it’s impossible to pigeonhole his interests or his writing. After earning a degree in computer science with a minor in history at WSU, he received a master’s in history at Utah State University and a doctoral degree in the history of science and technology from Case Western Reserve University.
“The future is just history that hasn’t been written,” Swedin said. “I see computers and history as very integrated because both of them are about how the world works — especially history. And I’m interested in how the world works.”
At Weber State, Swedin has taught in computer science, information systems, honors and history, and he’s written books about religious history, American history, alternate history and the history of technology, along with a commentary on a collection of government documents about survival in a nuclear war.
His book, “When Angels Wept: A What-If History of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” won the 2013 Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History. The award was established in 1995 to honor short- and long-form alternate history stories.
“I wanted to show that the Cuban Missile Crisis is truly the most important event of the 20th century based on what did not happen as opposed to what did happen,” Swedin said. “The Cuban Missile Crisis is much more terrifying than people realize. We had the best possible outcome you could have for that crisis. We, as historians, way too often take advantage of our knowledge of history. We assume events turn out in a sort of predestined way. We can’t criticize past choices, using our 20/20 hindsight.”
Swedin said, in hindsight, if he wanted to make a lot of money, he would have pursued different professional paths and different writing genres. Although most of his books are available on Amazon, total royalties over his lifetime amount only to $25,000; definitely not enough to make a living.
“I think of myself as a writer who has a good job as a history professor,” Swedin said, laughing. “I am lucky because I get to write what I want to write and what interests me.”
Not having great commercial success didn’t stop Swedin; however, a brain aneurysm three years ago nearly took his life. He spent 21 days in intensive care and 27 days in the hospital. Yet, despite concern from his doctors, he returned to the classroom two weeks after being released from the hospital, wearing a hat to cover the long gash and stiches on his forehead.
He also returned to writing, although he admits to being distracted more easily since the surgery. Also now, he writes more history than fiction.
“What would I do with myself if I weren’t a writer?” Swedin asked. “But, I do struggle more now. The words don’t sing to me. It used to be the words just fit perfectly with rhythm and harmony. That was before the aneurysm.”
The rhythm might be harder to find, but Swedin said the aneurysm has not diminished the satisfaction and creativity of his eclectic life of teaching and writing.
“I strongly believe that people limit themselves much more than they need to,” Swedin said. “The act of trying to achieve — even if they fail — to have tried and not to have succeeded is not failure.”
Visit swedin.org for a complete list of Swedin’s books and courses.
Visit weber.edu/wsutoday for more news about Weber State University.
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