Friday, May 25, 2012

Russian apocalyptic

It is not only the English language writers that have had a huge surge in the dystopian and apocalyptic.  The Russians are at it as well
Phoebe Taplin, Russia Beyond the Headlines, 3 May 2012

In the first twelve years of the 21stcentury, Russian writers have created a bewildering number of futuristic and post-apocalyptic novels. Settings range from feudal barbarism to hi-tech nightmare with everything in between. Books are banned and mutant humans live in primitive huts, eating mice. The secret police rape and burn all day and relax with drug-fuelled orgies. People are continually reincarnated, wear mirror masks, and copulate or die en masse at festivals. Warring factions survive in the tunnels of the disused subway.

These are just a few of the many dystopian scenarios that contemporary Russian writers [in this case, Tatyana Tolstaya, Vladimir Sorokin, Anna Starobinets and Dmitry Glukhovsky, respectively] have envisaged in the last decade. Ever since Evgeny Zamyatin wrote “We” in 1921 (providing the model for George Orwell’s “1984”) novelists have been producing satirical visions of the future, but recently the genre, like a horror-film alien, has spawned countless offspring. Lisa Hayden, who writes the blog Lizok’s Bookshelf focusing on contemporary Russian fiction, says: “I find a lot of dystopias, apocalypses, and parallel worlds in the books I read, and many others include mystical or fantastical twists, wrinkles, and tears in the cloth of what might be considered objective reality.”

Of the books noted in the article, I have Vladimir Sorokin's  Day of the Oprichnik which per the article "resurrects Ivan the Terrible’s murderous Oprichniki and sends them lusting and looting across Russia in 2028." and Dmitry Bykov's Living Souls featuring a "never-ending civil war in Russia between nationalists and liberals".  I also notice Olga Slavnikova's 2017 is also available in English and went ahead and ordered that one. They mention Victor Pelevin  The Hall of Singing Caryatids, but I did not see it in an English language edition, and it truthfully sounds more dystopian than apocalyptic.

One of the big factors in the rise of Russian post-apocalyptic genre is game tie ins. As noted by Irene W. Galaktionova, who authors the blog Read Russian in English:

Irene W. Galaktionova, Megaton, 26 April 2012
In the early 2000s, the post-apocalyptic genre has blossomed in Russia, mainly due to the success of numerous game tie-ins. Today, new books are written after recent PA games, and new PA games are created after recent PA novels. Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky, published in 2007, was the first of the new wave of Russian PA novels, although not the first one to be turned into a video game. Set in the deadly world of Moscow's vast underground system inhabited by mutants and the dregs of post-nuclear society, it was later turned into a video game of the same name and followed by the sequel, Metro 2034.
But the most popular Russian post-apocalyptic setting is, of course, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series started in 2007.The game (and the following tie-in novels), based loosely on the Strugatskys' novella Roadside Picnic and their short story The Forgotten Experiment, is set in an alternative Earth where the Chernobyl catastrophe took place in 2006. The heroes' militaristic adventures in the Zone rife with mutated enemies were immediately developed into S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-based books.
In total, eighty-three S.T.A.L.K.E.R. novels and short story anthologies have been published in Russia since 2007, but none of them have been translated into English as yet....
The noted Metro 2033, which first became popular as an online journal and is now also a video game, I am guessing is the best known of all these works here within the U.S.  Buy, when she is saying "of course" with regards to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., apparently one of its many volumes made it into the Guinness Book of Records for largest single print run of a novel.
Alex Bobl, writes within the S.T.A.L.K.E.R setting, and also has an interesting blog where he discusses (in English) Russian post-apocalyptia and feature artwork and interviews.  He is due to release a new novel,  Memoria as his first that has been translated to English.  Oddly enough, it sounds like its setting is at least in part in New York City.  So we will get a Russian view of a dystopian-apocalyptic America.  That should be interesting.

English language version coming in the Summer of 2012


Degringolade said...

Not completely related, but I still vividly remember the time that I was reading a comic book in the seventies...the story was simple, but the gist of it was there were two men talking about what it took to face the antichrist in the battle that they were going into. The last pane showed the same men in Soviet officers uniforms leaving a building walking towards missiles.

russell1200 said...

D: So they were going off to fight Nixon? I think a lot of people at the time would have accepted that notion.

Alex Bobl said...

Interesting look, an interesting opinion. Thank you.

GalaktioNova said...

Yes,I remember those years Degringolade is talking about - the 1970s, I think it was the toughest as far as the Cold War was concerned. I remember our whole class expecting the war to start any minute... a very strange feeling, I tell you! :)

russell1200 said...

AB: You will have to tell me when your book is coming out. As to my opinion, I am at the mercy of those more knowledgeable than I. Mostly I am trying to introduce people to other reading alternatives that they might not be aware. The Australians also write some good PA fiction, but it rarely makes it to the U.S.

G: I remember them as well. The mid-1970s were often considered tha absolute low point of the U.S. during the cold war - stagflation, Vietnam mailaise, marxist insurgencies on the rise, etc. A lot of our problems in the U.S. today still partially trace back to our problems with the Vietnam War debt.

Alex Bobl said...

Oh, thanks!
If all is well, Memoria will coming in the middle of June.