Michael Swanwick. Libertarian Russia. (Asimovs December 2010).

Near-future in which the ‘Depopulation’ has caused a lack of resources which has meant the Russian government has had to restrict it’s control freakery to the larger population area, thus creates vast stretches of the rural country with no state control.

Taking the name of one Viktor Pelevin (wikipedia entry), a young man with a neat motorcycle that can run on grass and water, and a gun that will only work in his hand, leaves Moscow behind. With the wind in his hair, he has the freedom of the road.

He picks up a hitchhiker who is more than happy to pay her way in kind. However, her true value comes to light when the pair end up in a bar run by ex-state secret servicemen, and it turns out she has more talents than meet the eye. Young Viktor finds that the reality of a countryside free of state control is perhaps not all that he had dreamt of.

An interesting story. It could equally have been set (with some adjustments to the talents of the hitchhiker) in any period of history in the USA (or of most countries to be honest) – just provide a sufficiently rural setting, and you are in a setting that can be a long, long way from normal rules of behaviour.

There were more issues for me with the story that is usually the case with a Swanwick.

When first meeting Svetlana, in conversation, ‘Viktor’ gives a lengthy exposition about what has happened to the country, which doesn’t quite ring true. Svetlana is quite happy to describe herself as a ‘whore’, and is little more than a comic book/James Bond cutout – emotionally detached, beautiful and extremely-deadly Ice Maidenski (although emotional reaction to triple murder does come). And the story is quiet short, necessitating a quick set up and denouement, a rapid shattering of Viktor’s hopes and dreams for the future. There’s certainly dramatic tension in the final scences as ‘Viktor’ realises he is powerless and will run and leave Svetlana to her fate when given the choice – similar to watching the ‘piggy’ scene in ‘Deliverance’. But at least in ‘Deliverance’ the guys are able to regain/redeem their own dignity, without being baled out.

Charley Boorman meets John Boorman if you get my drift (wikipedia)

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