03 January 2013

The Slynx (Tatyana Tolstaya)

By happenstance, I followed up We with a modern, but still very Russian, dystopia: Tatyana Tolstaya's The Slynx: a fun, freewheeling take on post-nuclear apocalypse. Because what's more fun than that, amirite?

The Slynx is set 200 years after what's become known as the Blast, in the ruins of what was once Moscow--now known as Fyodor-Kuzmichsk, namesake of the Greatest Murza, Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe, inventor of the wheel and the yoke, prolific author of the works Benedikt and his fellow scribes copy out onto bark in the Work Izba. Of course, these atavistic amanuenses (ha, I shouldn't love that phrasing as much as I do, but I DO I DO) don't know that Fyodor Kuzmich is merely taking credit for the accumulated poetry and prose of the Russian canon . . . but the ageless, nearly immortal Oldeners who lived through their world's end do, and bemoan the loss and corruption of their dead culture.

The society of The Slynx is a Frankenstein's monster of present and past, the latter forgotten or mutated like those born post-Blast, who suffer grotesque Consequences, claws and cockscombs and extra appendages. But lingering, stubborn notions of how things used to be still govern them, despite their irrelevance; like Benedikt and co-worker Varvara Lukinishna wondering what the oft-copied term "steed" might be and concluding it must be a mouse (though a big one), the people garble their heritage like in a game of Telephone, with results as often sad as they are always hilarious. For while Tolstaya's created future owes a debt to the derangement of society under the Soviets, and the storied history of Russian letters (especially Pushkin, as usual), I found the narrative itself most reminiscent of Gogol, giddy, snarky, and wild, tearing off on tangents, tossing in a fable or two, but always affectionate, even as it shakes its head at these silly creatures.

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