Friday, 26 December 2014

Oh, Those Russians! by Ruby Barnes #ASMSG

The Chernobyl disaster of 26 April 1986 is imprinted on the memory of everyone who lived through that time and continues to be known as one of the World's worst nuclear accidents. The Cold War had long threatened the planet with a nuclear cataclysm but Chernobyl surprised and appalled the population of Earth.

An author with a knack for prophesy had written a novel based around a nuclear power accident in Russia several months before the Chernobyl disaster occurred. Farewell to Russia by Richard Hugo (a.k.a. Jim Williams) described a technically very different scenario to Chernobyl, with an even more disastrous potential outcome. But the point Williams made was poignant: 

"...there remains a fundamental similarity in that both disasters have their origins in the way that the communist system operated. The Soviet Union was a rickety slovenly place behind its sinister fa├žade and the circumstances of the imaginary disaster at Sokolskoye and the real disaster at Chernobyl stand as a metaphor for the weaknesses that would bring the whole system down."

As a fan of Jim Williams I had a battered second-hand copy of Farewell to Russia in my bookcase and resolved to read it sometime. Last summer I finally got around to the task and was very surprised by this out-of-print novel. The author soon transported me into a dark Soviet Era world in which a KGB detective became embroiled in a nuclear incident and attempted to smuggle embargoed USA technology to solve the threat to the Russian nation. The retro feel was authentic, the prose timeless, the detective Kirov a dark master of manipulation and interrogation. Psychological thrills, action, a love interest, it had everything. Critics of the time had praised the work but it seemed to have lapsed into obscurity. I spoke to Jim about it and he suggested I read the sequel A Conspiracy of Mirrors / The Gorbachev Version. For several days I lived for that book, entangled in a mix of James Bond, Nordic noir and The Americans. Jim's flair for languages and research combined to build an authentic and troublesome world for KGB Major Pyotr Kirov. Jim was finally persuaded to re-release both books under his real name with our publisher Marble City Publishing, renaming the sequel Anti-Soviet Activities. The original paper copies were digitized and reformatted for the modern world by Marble City, and new covers created by JD Smith Design.

Farewell to Russia by Jim Williams
The First Pyotr Kirov Detective Novel

Both books are now available from Marble City in e-book and paperback format. Farewell to Russia will be free on Amazon from 28 December 2014 to 1 January 2015. If you enjoy a good thriller then click the above link, head on over to Amazon and grab a copy!

The Second Pyotr Kirov Detective Novel

5 comments:

Lydia Bennet said...

I will check these out Ruby! I have a major soft spot for Russia and Russians, I with my then husband, and our five year old son, went to Moscow and Leningrad while Gorby was in charge bless him, it was amazing, I was in hospital in north east England with multiple fractures when Chernobyl all kicked off, the readings of radioactivity were off the charts fairly nearby and we were all scared it would poison us too. So much respect and sadness for the people there, and the heroism of the firefighters who went into the reactor knowing they'd not survive.

Reb MacRath said...

Ruby, just about the last things I needed right now were more titles to add to my TBR list. But these books have been added. Thanks.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

My most successful ever stage play - called Wormwood - was about the Chernobyl disaster. It was produced at the Traverse in Edinburgh and the play script which was published by Nick Hern Books is still in print. From time to time it still gets a student production - the most recent was in Edinburgh, this year. It was harrowing to write and the director remarked, some way through its three week run, that they had never had a production where so many people fainted and had to be carried out! As well as that, I used to sit and watch audience members with tears running down their cheeks - it was very intimate, with the audience sitting on three sides, and even I, who had written it, found it incredibly harrowing and moving to watch. At the time of the disaster, my biochemist dad was working at a government research institute - we knew their radiological protection officer, and he had been asked to test locally. The readings were off the scale - but randomly. So a puddle, where rain gathered, dried, collected again, would be sky high. I agree about the Soviet system to some extent - but the other, much more worrying aspect of it, was what one of the characters in the play calls something like the 'dangerous concept of unlikeliness'. You decide that something is so unlikely to happen than you don't need to plan for it. So you don't. And the result of that is that if it does start to happen, you don't even realise that it is happening. And that, worryingly enough, can happen anywhere, anytime, any place. My play wasn't an anti-nuclear polemic by any means. Quite the reverse really. But when you look at Fukushima, what do you find? Something so unlikely to happen that you don't plan for it ... I remember watching it unfolding and thinking, hell's teeth. Here we go again.

Lydia Bennet said...

Wow Catherine, what an achievement. I don't think it was particularly Soviet - as you say, Fukushima, and there are plenty of other examples - putting bugger all lifeboats on the Titanic is a classic example of that syndrome.

@Ruby_Barnes said...

Thanks Lydia, Reb and Catherine. If you've grabbed an early version then let me know as a few updates now in place :-)