Authors: Ekaterina Sedia
Tags: #Fantasy, #C429, #Kat, #Extratorrents
The Secret History of Moscow
“Sedia’s beautifully nuanced prose delivers both a uniquely enchanting fantasy and a thoughtful allegory that probes the Russian national psyche.”
“A lovely, disconcerting book that does for Moscow what I hope my own Neverwhere may have done to London . . . ” —Neil Gaiman
“The Secret History of Moscow really feels like a secret: an alternative world a half-dimension removed from ours, a place woven out of whisper and shadow, populated with forgotten creatures and even less-remembered thoughts.”
“A truly remarkable performance, written in a consistently graceful and focused prose, and it succeeds both as a coherent fantasy novel and a meditation on the anxieties of history.”
“Modern blue-collar Moscow is pitch-perfect . . . bustling yet seedy, disorganized and none too respectable.”
The Alchemy of Stone
“Sedia’s novel captures the surreal strangeness of a city whose power structure is about to be toppled, and her focus on Mattie’s relationship with her creator allows her to grapple with the tiny power struggles inherent in all human relationships.”
“Sedia’s evocative third novel, a steampunk fable about the price of industrial development, deliberately skewers familiar ideas, leaving readers to reach their own conclusions about the proper balance of tradition and progress and what it means to be alive.”
The House of Discarded Dreams
“Sedia’s prose is a pleasure, her story a lovely place to have spent time, even with the horrors her characters face.”
“A quirky, joyous fantasy, Sedia shows how competing natural and supernatural worldviews can enrich each other.” —Publishers Weekly
Heart of iron
“Sedia superbly blends novel of manners, alternate history, and le Carré-style espionage with a dash of superheroes and steampunk.”
Moscow But Dreaming
Copyright © 2012 by Ekaterina Sedia. Cover art © by Andrey Obryvalin.
Cover design by Telegraphy Harness.
Publisher’s Note: No portion of this book may be reproduced by any means, mechanical, electronic, or otherwise, without first obtaining the permission of the copyright holder.
To everyone who was ever lost or found home.
The first piece of fiction I ever read by my fellow South Jerseyan, Ekaterina Sedia, was a story she sent me on the e-mail maybe a year or so before The Secret History of Moscow came out. I don’t think it had the title it has now and I’m not sure that it hasn’t been rewritten, but you can find its finished version in these pages, going by the title, “Zombie Lenin.” I remember the ease with which I slid into this fiction—the writing was a joy, clear and flowing, and the story-line was dream-like and always potentially threatening. There’s a scene where Sedia describes her zombie Lenin, and one of the attributes she gives him is that his flesh is “yellow.” The use of that color in that instance really struck me, and I never forgot it. In fact, I “borrowed” it for a story I wrote years later. Since that first piece I read, I’ve followed her writing career, reading her fiction when I could find it and then eventually seeking it out.
Many of you will have read or at least heard of her novels, The Secret History of Moscow (ghosts of the Soviet Union, mythologies of old Russia, in a mosaic plot that gives a nod to Dante), The Alchemy of Stone (a dark, feminist, steampunk fairy tale with a sharp edge, every bit as good as Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl), The House of Discarded Dreams (the supernatural meets New Jersey reality in a lyrical and compelling fiction with my favorite female character of recent years—Vimbai). Each of these books is unique in style and structure, each brilliant in conception and brilliantly written. Don’t take my word for it. You can read the accolades on-line from The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, LA Times, etc. Sedia is a major voice in novellength speculative literature. It’s my conjecture, though, that her short fiction is equally as important.
Sedia is part of a new wave of writers that have come to the fore since the onset of the 21st century. To generalize, they are incredible stylists, savvy craftsmen, and have a vision that exceeds the boundaries of the U.S. or U.K. (a side of the street worked for a long time by only Lucius Shepard and a handful of others). Along with Sedia, I’m thinking of Lavie Tidhar, Nnedi Okorafor, Hiromi Goto, Aliette de Bodard, etc. This is a welcome development for English language readers of the fantastic. In the stories in this collection, we get to experience the influence of Russia and the old Soviet Union, their realities and mythologies, their dreams and nightmares, and even in those stories that take place in the U.S., the pieces are informed by an outsider’s sensibility that uncovers truths we natives had somewhere along the line willfully chosen to ignore.
As much as Sedia is part of this new wave, she is also part of a tradition in speculative fiction, that of remarkable female short story writers. This tradition has, in the last decade, really blossomed with the work of writers like Kelly Link, M. Rickert, Theodora Goss, Catherynne M. Valente, etc. (the list is long and growing). In trying to place Sedia in the current scene, it would be a mistake, though, to miss her idiosyncratic attributes, those things her stories do that the fiction of others does not.
A weak term to describe Sedia’s short fiction would be “magical realism.” At times, in order to submerge us into the story, she will use realism, but the magical parts of the stories aren’t mere nods to the fantastic and the presence of the supernatural is usually not ambiguous. Her work is informed by a palpable sense of world mythology and specifically Russian folklore, often seen darkly, like nightmares in the light of day (shades of her countryman, Gogol). Sedia’s fictional worlds many times are alive, almost anthropomorphic. I get a similar feel from them as I get in reaction to the old Fleischer Brothers cartoons from the 1930’s. It’s not that her houses have faces or that the clock has actual hands with gloves as the Brothers’ did, but a sense that the world of the story has a certain sentience to it, more times malevolent than charmed. As in “The Bank of Burkina Faso,” the darkness “coagulates” or this line from later in the piece—And in his mind, another dance, entirely imaginary, unfolded slowly, like a paper fan in the hands of a young girl . . . Although her writing is clear and unfettered, there is a richness of metaphor and simile that engenders this effect.
Another inimitable talent of Sedia’s is that her stories defy you to figure out where they are headed, what the outcome will eventually be. She has a deftness with plots that turn, lyrically, like dreams, on a dime and take you far from their starting points. When you reach the end, though, there’s a feeling that the journey, no matter how surreal, has made sense. There are no pat interpretations, but one is left with a field of possibility, and the contemplation of these stories, after you’ve finished reading them, will offer as much enjoyment and thought as the initial journey. I get the feeling that in the creation of her short fiction, she takes her hands off the wheel and lets her subconscious do the driving. There are no road maps. The story takes her where it needs to go and not the opposite.
For all of the dream-like, dark fairy tale nature of her stories, Sedia is capable of dealing with important contemporary themes in her work—child abuse, feminism, the futile nature of war, etc. The lyrical aspect of the fiction never blinds one to the real world, but instead is like some magical stereopticon that allows one to see with the help of the fantastic through to the heart of these issues.
All of this and more in a single volume that will delight readers of the fantastic and inspire story writers, who, like me, will be unable to refrain from “borrowing.”
—Jeffrey Ford author of The Shadow Year and World Fantasy Award winner
1. The Moscow Sea (Mare Moscoviense)
Moscow is one of the most landlocked cities on Earth, but whatever disappears from it ends up in the Moscow Sea. The local inhabitants see a certain irony in that, and celebrate every new arrival. They cheered when the churches burned by Napoleon appeared and stood over the shallow waters of the sea, reflecting there along with the sparrows and the immigrants. They greeted the dead priests with coppers on their eyes, the hockey teams, the horse-drawn buggies. They are still waiting for the jackdaws, but the jackdaws are resilient, and they stay in their city.
Nowadays, if one looks into this shallow pool, one can still see the marching Red Armies, Belka and Strelka, and the Great October Revolution.
2. The Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium)
The inhabitants of this sea are used to rain. It is a sea in name only, an empty basin long ago abandoned by water. But it rains every day. Sometimes, instead of water, flower petals fall from the sky; sometimes, it rains wooden horses and rubber duckies.
One rain everyone still remembers occurred a few years ago, when words fell from the sky. It did not stem for weeks, and the words filled the empty basin to overflowing. The inhabitants groaned and suffocated under the weight of accumulated regrets, promises, lies, report cards, great literature, pop songs, and shopping lists. They would surely perish unless something was done soon.
The council of the elders decided that they should drain the accumulated words, and in the course of their deliberations they realized that the words falling from the sky slowed down. So they decreed that it was the civic duty of every citizen to use up as many words as possible.
They bought telephones, and started telemarketing campaigns; they complained about their health and spun long tales for their children; they took to poetry.
Within days, the rain stopped; in the next month, the sea ran dry. Today, the inhabitants of this sea are mute, and the basin is empty—unless it rains nightingale songs or tiny blue iridescent fish.
3. The Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium)
The Sea of Clouds is entirely contained by mountains, so high above the blue moon surface that the clouds fill the basin. Mermaids from all over the world make their yearly pilgrimage to this sea— they crawl over land, their tails trailing furrows in the blue dust, their breasts and elbows scuffed on the flat lunar stones. They leave traces of pale mermaid blood, its smell tinged with copper.
They cross the extensive ice fields, and their scales shine with the hoarfrost under the fickle lights of Aurora Borealis. Their breath clouds the air, so much so that the natives rarely travel in the thick fog of mermaid breath, lest they be lost forever.
In the end, the mermaids come to the Sea of Clouds, so just for a day they can swim in the sky and think themselves birds.