Table of Contents
"Don’t Panic!" —Sergey Lukyanenko (b. 1968), translated by Brian James Baer
"The Lithuanian Hand" —Julia Kissina (b. 1966), translated by Brian James Baer
"The Tattoo" —Evgenii Grishkovets (b. 1967), translated by Brian James Baer
"Hands" —Yuly Daniel (b. 1925), translated by Brian James Baer
"Grandpa and Laima" —Dina Rubina (b. 1953), translated by Brian James Baer
"Sinbad the Sailor" —Yuri Buida (b. 1954), translated by Robert Chandler
"The Beast" —Ludmila Ulitskaya (b. 1943), translated by Brian James Baer
"The Arm" —Ludmila Petrushevskaya (b. 1938), translated by Anna Summers
"The Swim" —Vladimir Sorokin (b. 1955), translated by Brian James Baer
"Three Wars" —Alexander Ilichevsky (b. 1970), translated by Brian James Baer
Notes on Russian Texts"Don't Panic!"
Translated by Brian James Baer
Yes, my child, your grandpa is very brave. He never cried, even when he was little. Now let's wipe away those tears and tell me what scared you so.
A frog? A big one? Did it jump?
No, don't be afraid of frogs.
When I was little, everyone was afraid of something. Even your grandpa was a little afraid, but he didn't cry. Yes, I'll tell you about it. Of course.
Most of all we were afraid of one other. For example, we were afraid that the people with black skin and yellow skin would reproduce in such great numbers that they'd soon drive the white people out. Funny, isn't it? What difference does skin color make? Meanwhile, the people with black skin and yellow skin were afraid that the white people would drop a bomb on them.
That's why we were all afraid of a nuclear war.
What's a nuclear war? Well, once there were these big scary bombs that could explode and kill a lot of people all at the same time, and so everyone was afraid that people would blow one another up.
No, you don't have to be afraid of them anymore. There are no more nuclear bombs.
We were terribly afraid of machines!
We made more and more sophisticated machines, and they became almost as intelligent as people. We were afraid that machines would refuse to obey people and would start a war-either by dropping bombs on us or simply by beating us with their mechanical arms. Some people were even afraid that machines would start using people instead of batteries. That's how silly we were!
We were also afraid the ozone layer would disappear. What's the ozone layer? Well, let me think of how to explain it to you. . . . It's sort of a haze very high in the sky that protected the Earth from harmful rays. A while ago people built a lot of factories and cars that polluted the air. This began to destroy the ozone layer; the sun burned more intensely and people got sick. Nuclear bombs could destroy the entire ozone layer all at once, and we were very afraid of that.
What else were we afraid of?
We were very afraid of diseases, germs, and viruses. We were very good at treating diseases, but the diseases were very good at resisting our treatments. We got a new disease every year, each one more terrible than the last. We'd begin to treat it immediately, but every time we were afraid we'd fail.
We were afraid of starving. What if the black, yellow, and white people reproduced but didn't fight with one other? They wouldn't have anything to eat and they'd die from starvation. That's why scientists started experimenting with DNA so that people would have plenty of food.
We were very afraid of those experiments! You see, scientists invented ways to modify animals and plants. For example, how to grow apples the size of watermelons and chickens the size of rhinoceroses. They did this so we'd have plenty of food.
Of course, that wasn't the thing that scared us. We were afraid the scientists would take a fly, for example, breed it with an elephant, and get a tiny flying elephant or an enormous fly, or a biting apple, or . . . No, stop crying, no one's doing experiments like that anymore.
We were also afraid an asteroid would hit the Earth. An asteroid is a kind of enormous stone that flies in the sky and then suddenly falls to Earth. Could it crush someone? Well, yes, it could crush someone. Everything around it would burn; the seas would overflow their banks and flood everything. Smoke would cover the sun, then it would get cold and everyone would freeze.
But we were also afraid the smoke would cover the sky like a lid on a pot. It would get hotter on Earth. Then the arctic snow would melt and flood everything.
There you go! You're already laughing!
We were also afraid of aliens. We were afraid they'd come to Earth from other galaxies, see what a beautiful planet we had, and then try to take it away. They'd capture our women, put the men to work in mines, and eat our children.
That's why we kept making more and more nuclear bombs just in case we had to blow up an asteroid, drive away aliens, or wage war against each other.
Silly? Yes, my child, we were silly. We were afraid of everything, but we didn't cry. Do you hear me?
We were afraid of such silly things-it's funny to recall.
For example, we were afraid of losing our jobs. No, we didn't like our jobs, but we were afraid of losing them.
We were afraid that someone would steal something from us. What exactly? Well, anything.
We were afraid our neighbors would say bad things about us. Well, it's not the end of the world, of course. But we were very afraid of that. We wanted to look like the best people in the world.
We were very afraid of dictatorships. A dictatorship is when one person begins to give orders to everyone else and rules with an iron fist. That's what is referred to by the terrible word "tyranny."
That's how hard your grandpa's life was.
How did we stop being afraid?
It happened on its own.
At first people started fighting with one other. Sometimes the white people fought the yellow people; sometimes the black people fought the white people. But most often the white people fought other white people, the black people, other black people, and the yellow people, other yellow people. So that no one would be offended.
Since everybody wanted to fight but no one wanted to die, people built an enormous number of smart machines, which began to fight among themselves. But then the machines became so smart, they didn't want to die either. So they began to fight the people.
Some machines flew and some crawled, but they all beat people with their mechanical arms and threatened to use us like batteries.
Then we dropped nuclear bombs on them.
All the machines were instantly incinerated. It turned out we had no reason to be afraid of them.
The only bad thing was that the ozone layer started to disappear because of the bombs, and the sun began to burn more intensely. The nuclear bombs and the sun rays made germs and viruses mutate quickly, and many new, horrible diseases appeared on Earth. But then the ozone layer disappeared entirely and all the viruses and germs died out very fast. This is why many people now think the disappearance of the ozone layer was an extremely fortunate thing.
Everyone who survived became not white, not yellow, not black, but green, like now, and so they stopped fighting over the color of their skin.
Well, actually, not entirely. There was still a little fighting-between the light greens and the dark greens.
We no longer feared starvation because there were so many fewer people. Nevertheless, the scientists who remained finished with their genetic experiments. But they didn't produce more food as they were forbidden to experiment on animals. And so people grew smaller and needed less food.
And the sun-yes, it burned more and more intensely. The Earth began to burn. But then, luckily, an asteroid fell into the Pacific Ocean. Such waves rolled in that they put out all the fires. And the ash rose into the air and hung there, completely replacing the ozone layer. It's a shame, of course, that the sun is no longer visible; it's just a shiny spot shimmering behind the clouds . . .
Since then, winters, of course, are very cold. But because volcanoes began to erupt all across the Earth after the asteroid hit, everything gradually evened out.
And then evil aliens landed. It turns out that they'd dropped the asteroid on us-to scare us.
At first the aliens started capturing the men and forcing them to work in mines. But it so happened that not a single one of the men could lift a shovel anymore. Then the evil aliens started to bite our young children. But it turned out that as we grew smaller and greener, we became poisonous too.
Especially our children.
Then the aliens demanded that we turn over all our women. We protested, of course, but the women gathered together and went as a group to the aliens. This is when they flew away. Everyone, except for those who'd lost their minds when they saw our women . . . Don't cry! You know that your mom only comes out of her cave at night!
We stopped being afraid of silly little things like getting fired from a job or having something stolen.
First, no one works anymore. Second, there's nothing to steal.
We completely stopped feeling bad that our neighbors would think poorly of us! Who cares about the opinion of those stupid, spiteful light greens?
And it's silly to be afraid of a crafty dictator who will bring tyranny. You know, when someone grows a little taller than the others or becomes a little shorter, we all immediately go and beat them up. We're even ready to call the light greens for help.
And since then, my child, we've stopped being afraid. We've become very brave-and no longer cry, not even when we see a frog . . .
Wipe away your tears. Grandpa will take his spear and we'll go hunting for frogs. You, child, go ahead because you're young and very vulnerable. I'll walk behind you with my spear. And tonight your mom will cook the frog for the entire tribe.
The Lithuanian Hand
Translated by Brian James Baer
I went to a flea market, and there were wives selling mummies of their husbands-veterans of the Great Patriotic War. And the mummies weren't lying down; they were standing up, leaning against polished wooden boards. Almost all the mummies were in military uniforms. One was a lieutenant, another a major in a rotting high-collared jacket, and a third a simple soldier. One woman had a dried Tajik dressed in an Indian costume-he'd been an actor in Dushanbe before the war. And the mummies were all richly decorated. Some even had gemstones in place of their eyes. And these poor, indigent old women, with their last ounce of strength, were boasting, vying with one another in praise of their goods, and haggling with the customers.
"My Vanyok was sent to the front when he was seventeen. That's why I'm still a virgin. But I don't regret it. I've kept my love for him through the years like a nail. My room is filled with portraits of him! After his contusion, he suffered. He couldn't be a man. He cried all the time. But toward the end of the war, we got married all the same. I waited for him to be cured and to give me children. The war ended and everyone was happy, but in December of '46 he died in the hospital. It was cold there and he froze to death. He'd been kind to all the crippled people, and for that the government decided to give him a medal after he was dead. And they gave me some money to have him mummified. But the first mummifier I came across was such a bastard. He was a non-Russian, a foreigner (probably a Jew)."
"Oy, how I suffered. Our apartment was very damp-the windows faced West-and in the early fifties my sister and I began to notice a strange smell. It smelled until 1956. And our apartment was so small then. For six years I looked all around, and then I found out what it was! Sergei was moldy. He'd been standing near the balcony and his hand caught a draft. So I called the doctor, but he balked: 'Why would you want me to treat a corpse?' I told him, 'That's my husband, Sergei Afanasievich Petrenko, a war hero, not a corpse.' Then the doctor asked: 'Why is he mummified like an Egyptian pharaoh?' 'The government ordered it,' I said. Evidently, the doctor was a Communist. 'We have only one mummy,' he said, 'Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. I'm going to report you.' 'Who are you going to report me to?' 'To the appropriate authorities,' he said."
"Yes, we had a lot of troubles after the war," lamented another old woman. She leaned against her mummy and sighed. Then they caught sight of me and broke into radiant smiles and began to scurry about.
"Come here, dearie, we'll tell you about our goods. We'll let them go for cheap."
"I'm afraid I don't have enough money."
"What are you saying, dearie? You can pay in installments. I wouldn't have put my Indian up for sale for anything. I would have admired him my whole life long and then left him to my grandchildren, but, oh, you know what times these are."
The other old women began to hum and buzz.
"There's nothing to eat and we have to feed our grandchildren."
"We need money for bread-does that make us traitors to our husbands?"
"We're not angry widows . . ."
"I'll put a gold ring on his finger and you, young foreign lady, you can sell it and buy a computer."
"But how will I get it home?"
"Take a taxi. We have boxes-strong ones, three millimeters thick, with cotton wool for padding."
"You won't regret it. He'll make a nice decoration for your apartment."
"Go on, take it," the old women began once again to hum.
"He's not rotten is he, your Indian?"
"What are you saying? We had him completely restored in 1960. Now he's ready for your Munich art gallery.
"My son helped me reinforce his father. He's a scientist. When he was a child after the war he'd go digging around inside his dear father. He didn't sleep at night-he was always exploring. Such a curious boy. And then he up and became a biologist. And the neighborhood kids were amazed: 'Hey, you're lucky. Where did you get that mummy of your dad?' And he was so proud of it-the government ordered it and so it happened. And everyone envied him. So take the mummy, put it next to the sideboard in your living room, and everyone will envy you too."
"You should take my Andrey Petrovich instead. He has magical powers-he cures people. A priest blessed him for ten rubles a long time ago. Then he started to bring people luck. One time a neighbor stopped by. She told me she had stomach cancer and cried, the poor thing. So I told her: 'Spend a night in the room with our Andrey Petrovich-and it will go away like that.' And can you imagine, it went away like that. Now she runs around like a goat. She's in her sixties and she runs around like a goat. She kept asking if she could have Andrey Petrovich, or at least a finger. 'It'll be like a relic in a church,' she said, although that pig wasn't even religious. But then the hard times came and one black day I sold her a finger. Then he got mad at me for having cut it off. I got so sick. My daughter, Katya, nursed me back to health. But now she's dead and I have no one but Andrey. I have nothing to live on, but I'm sad to part with him." The old woman embraced the mummy and broke into tears. The others rushed over to comfort her, telling her she'd spoil her mummy, and they hissed at me.
Copyright © 2017 by Brian James Baer. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.