Title: Strange Telescopes: Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia
Author: Daniel Kalder
Publisher: Overlook Press
Release Date: May 14, 2009
Sometimes you don’t have to go as far as the science fiction section to find stories of alternate realities. Sometimes you just have to know where to look right here on Earth. Strange Telescopes takes the reader into Post-Soviet Russia, where some people have constructed realities that are, as the adage goes, stranger than fiction. Kalder writes of his travels and experiences with four such people: a Digger in Moscow, a man examining exorcisms in the Ukraine, a man who has proclaimed himself Christ re-incarnate and the voice of God in Siberia, and a modern gangster building a wooden skyscraper.
Kalder’s voice is at times ironic, yet he is able to vividly describe the people he encounters and his surroundings. It would be impossible not to be drawn into each of his weird obsessions to the point where you just have to know about the King of the Diggers. Curiosity is sparked and interest is piqued — as the reader, you want to know about this underground world Vadim has created for himself and, like the author, you want this fanciful escape from reality to be real. At the same time, I felt the palpable disappointment when it began to dawn on me that Vadim was a few cards short of a full deck. The longing for that escape is inherent in most of us; when the going gets tough, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a world underground we could go to, a subterranean utopia?
Part of me was hoping that there was an underground society in Moscow — I was rooting for Kalder. I could feel myself getting my own hopes up, bracing myself for my own disappointment and completely understanding the obsession that was driving him to find these escapes. Strange Telescopes isn’t a mile-a-minute thrill ride through Russia. It’s a meandering, tangential view of a society coping with being thrust into some mold it hasn’t decided it fits in yet. It’s about the people who are trying to look at Post-Soviet Russia and trying to find their identity in that new construct.
These realities, or the attempt to create them, is a way of trying to cope with the world at large. There is nothing glamorous about a gangster building a wooden skyscraper; it’s just one man’s way of controlling his environment. There’s nothing divine about a man with a Messianic complex; he’s just a man trying to give his world meaning and to have meaning himself in that context. Perhaps these are atypical coping mechanisms, and maybe an environment (physical, emotional and political) like the one found in Russia contributes to these flights of fantasy.
This is a travelogue unlike any other. As a tourist you may check out the tallest wooden skyscraper, but you may never have heard of Vissarion and his followers on a mountain in Siberia. This is a book looking at Russia in a way most outsiders will never see it. Strange Telescopes is aptly named. Through Kalder’s eyes, the reader is given a strange view of Russia and some of its inhabitants. The description of the people is phenomenal, and Kalder’s desire and obsession to see the world through their eyes translates on the page, as does his disappointment when things return to reality. I think in our own way, we are all seeking that escape, and it still remains elusive.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars