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Soviet-punk


Just a couple of thoughts on the under-the-radar genre that I call "Soviet-punk" by analogy with steampunk. Like steampunk, Soviet-punk is retro: it looks back at a bygone historical period. But while the Age of Victoria is safely in the past, the Age of the USSR has never really ended. The ghost of Communism is, again, haunting the West, though now as a ghost of the past rather than the future (see Marx's Communist Manifesto for the reference). What is surprising is how few writers are willing to confront it.


The most interesting examples of Soviet-punk are set in a sort of phantasmagoric Soviet underworld, populated by grim reminders of the Gulag. There are also alternative-hsitory scenarios in which the USSR never fell, though these are rather rare - as opposed to the endless proliferation of Hitler-won-World War 2 books and movies. So why is Hitler so much more popular a villain than Stalin? Could it be because of the ambivalence toward Communism still widespread on the left? Or because Nazism is easier to understand, to condemn and dismiss than its Soviet counterpart?


In any case, Soviet-punk already has some interesting and defining texts: Adam Roberts' Yellow Blue Tibia, Andrew Crumley's Sputnik Caledonia and Peter Higgins' trilogy Wolfhound Empire.

Wolfhound Empire is both exciting and frustrating. It is dark, challenging and erudite (not sure how a non-Russian speaker can appreciate some of its puns). But ultimately, its vision of the USSR is entirely dystopic. Its world is teeming with assassins, monsters and fallen angels. It is a brutal, cruel and unforgiving universe, in which the protagonists pit themselves against machinations of the totalitarian Vlast (Power). But what about the genuine enthusiasm and the fervent belief that kept the USSR afloat for seventy years? It may be hard to acknowledge but the regime that starved and killed millions of its citizens was a utopia-in-the-making. Stalin was feared - but he was also adored. There was plenty of darkness but there was also light - and without that light, darkness could not endure for so long. It was faith, not just fear, that built and maintained the camps.


The USSR is a great unexplored terrain for science fiction and fantasy. Let's hope that more writers will venture there, to confront its ghosts and to hunt down its monsters. For better or for worse, we are still living in the post-Soviet century.












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