Oceans of the Mind, Winter 2005, #XVIII, “Eastern Europe”

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“Beating the Air” by Velko Miloev
“God’s Chosen” by Ekaterina Sedia
“Father” by Ivaylo G. Ivanov
“Ten Thousand Dollars More” by Khristo Poshtakov
“The Assassination” by Johan Vladimir
“Sunset in the Gulf of Cyclopses” by Sergey Gerasimov
“The Architect of the Apocalypse” by Boris Dolingo

The Winter 2005 Oceans of the Mind, issue XVIII, "Eastern Europeans," offers an interesting variety of stories ranging from winds to apocalypse.

The first story, Velko Miloev’s “Beating the Air,” has at its center a lovely idea.  What would you say to a wind and what would a wind say to you were it to speak? It sounds like an Eastern legend; however, this wind is not the elevated or mischievous sprite one imagines in such tales: it is a melancholy wind caught in the rat-race of working hours and disillusion.

The idea is fantastic, but the problem with fantastic ideas is that one must be able to fulfill their potential.  In this story, the idea stays an impression, a lovely impression indeed, but insufficiently developed.  The melancholy atmosphere of the story and the suggestive hints to an interesting fictional world really make one wish that Miloev had given himself the time and space to develop what stays a poetic but quick glimpse.

“God’s Chosen” by Ekaterina Sedia is set on Mars.  A group of robots waits for the distant ship they see in the sky.  Jonah, their leader, was the depositary of religious knowledge in the Salvation, a spaceship that crashed, leaving Jonah the only survivor.  He runs a community of robots he has built, according to the principles of sacred texts.  As the spaceship nears, Esu, Abel, Isaiah, and the others prepare for an apocalyptic encounter and try to find in their knowledge an appropriate definition for what will come out of the fiery spaceship.  The meeting is surprising for both for robots and humans.

“God’s Chosen” sets an interesting reversal of the figure of the heartless logical robot.  The humorous irony that underlies most of the story does not spoil the moving innocence with which the robots are portrayed.  As they try to make sense of their new experience, the reader is informally presented with questions on science, religion, and the interpretation of signs.  “God’s Chosen” is a fun story with an engaging plot that leaves open questions to those who care to ask.

Ivaylo G. Ivanov’s “Father” starts in a graveyard.  Oliver Simon has been in an incubator for seventeen years and keenly feels the years he lost.  He lost his father tool; Sean Simon died only a few days after eight-year-old Oliver was put in the incubator to save his life.  Twenty years later, Sean Simon’s fingerprints appear at the scene of a robbery.  The confused police inquiries trigger Oliver’s attempt to find out the truth behind his father’s reappearance with the help of two private eyes. 

Written in an intense first-person narrative, the voice is remniscent of some of Philip K. Dick’s early short fiction.  The story brilliantly fuses its sci-fi setting with a noir atmosphere.  Visionary in style, “Father” takes a sure grasp of its reader and defies any attempt to shrug off its haunting mood.  By enriching “Father” with lucid details in elegantly hazy prose, Ivanov succeeds in bringing alive the vivid images that make this story an excellent read. 

I’m afraid I cannot be as enthusiastic about Khristo Poshtakov’s “Ten Thousand Dollars More.”  Buster B. King has just learned from a newly invented machine that he has only a couple of months to live.  As Buster tries to cope with the terrible news, he also has to look at his life anew.

“Ten Thousand Dollars More” has few surprises to offer.  The story’s premise has been frequently portrayed in many genres, and the development is predictactable.  An unusual characterization could have saved it, but Poshtakov lets his protagonist become an irredeemable cliché while the other characters’ fleeting appearances do little more than advance the plot.

Johan Vladimir’s “The Assassination” is set in Tarnovo, Bulgaria in an unspecified future.  Evtim, a saint and the patriarch of the city, tries to live his life reading books and enjoying his trances in the city now ruled by Pagan deities.  Evtim’s body has changed and so has his life.  The Christian saints either live hidden or are tolerated but controlled by the new dominant deities.  Evtim has had luck and is even liked by the authorities, but when a group of saints makes a plan to murder the goddess dominating the city, he will inevitably become involved. 

“The Assassination” is the longest by far of the stories in this issue.  Its length is justified by its successful effort to create a world.  At first, it was difficult for me to orient in this story, difficulties increased by my lack of knowledge of Bulgarian folklore.  However, my effort was rewarded with a charming reading experience.  The battle between the two different systems of beliefs involves many theological and philosophical issues that, rather than becoming hollow discussions, find their expression in the political organization and in the balance of forces in the city.  In the midst of this difficult transposition of theology and philosophy in a fictional world, Vladimir also succeeds in providing a strong characterization for his protagonist as well as for many of his secondary characters.  What’s more, and what makes this story outstanding, is Vladimir’s convoluted style wich succeeds in creating a grimly illuminated world that captures the reader in its atmosphere long after the end.

Sergey Gerasimov’s “Sunset in the Gulf of Cyclopses” is set on the red planet.  Ronald Brook arrives on Mars after some strange accidents and the disappearance of a couple astronauts who preceded him.  As Ronald will discover, the lonely, deserted planet is not so lonely after all.

“Sunset in the Gulf of Cyclopses” is a classic Martian tale.  The odd environment of Mars, the likeliness of finding life, and the eeriness of the climate all play a part.  The story also makes use of mythological references; however, the references are not pursued to the end and seem to do little to provide a coherent rationale for their presence in the story.  A slight variation is given to the story by the uncanny Martian logic of the alien, but again the idea is not pursued to its conclusion.  The story is enjoyable: not a masterpiece, not a life-changing read, but light and agreeable.

In Boris Dolingo’s “The Architect of the Apocalypse,” twenty-year-old Maxim Uglov is unhappy with his studies as an engineer but also scared of leaving them as he has no other prospect than being drafted in the Russian army.  As Max reflects on his life, an old bum comes to offer him his former job as the architect of the apocalypse under the supervision of the mysterious Gamers.  The job entails many powers and advantages, with the sole inconvenience of also entailing mass murder.

As the old man tells Max the story of his career, the dialogue between the two becomes engaging and not devoid of some irony.  The characterization is also successful and the depiction of Max’s initial situation succeeds in eliciting sympathy in the reader.  The story is based on an extremely interesting idea.  The concept has potential and could have been developed further.  Nevertheless, the story remains captivating and humorous.