In times of uncertainty and frightening changes, alternative scenarios for the development of history, domestic and world, become attractive. In the collection of short stories "Death is Canceled" (M.: Gorodets. 2022), Sergey Litvinov offers the most unexpected options.
And he does this not in the form of charlatan distortions of "alternative historians", but in a vivid fiction form. In each of his ten stories, "something went wrong" in Russia (USSR) or in the world at large. Or, on the contrary, did it go the way it should?
The story “Death is Canceled” does not, however, convince us of the attractiveness of alternative development.
“Marshal Zhukov in 1957 did not support Khrushchev, but the conspirators. A duumvirate came to power: Molotov and Zhukov. Nikita Khrushchev was shot, and Zhukov was soon sent into an honorable retirement. Molotov came to power. In the USSR, a dictatorship of the Stalinist type was again established. The borders were completely closed, and no second wave of thaw happened. Stalin continued to lie in the Mausoleum. And in April 1961, the whole world was stunned: no, no one flew into space, but the Soviet Union announced the creation of IMMORTALITY.
Actually, there is no particular alternative in this version of national history. Well, Pasternak was shot in 1959 and all his works are outlawed. Well, in 1962 they sent a creative plane to the West with directors, poets, writers and composers, including young ones - Tarkovsky, Romm, Chukhrai, Kalatozov, Khutsiev, Ryazanov, Vysotsky, Galich, Okudzhava, Solzhenitsyn, Nekrasov, Iskander, Aksenov, Voznesensky, Slutsky. And the notorious immortality, like everything else in the USSR, turned out to be not only a privilege for the elite, but also a fiction, because “on average, it works only in about sixty percent of cases. The remaining forty percent of those vaccinated return to their previous state, and they, just like mere mortals, begin to be overcome by diseases: cancer, stroke, heart attack. And in everyday life there was no alternative at all. On the way to the district committee for a planned confession, the senior inspector of the MUR reflects on the pressing: “But leaving your swallow for the night near the house was madness. Okay, I have removable “wipers” and exterior mirrors, if I don’t park in a garage, I take them away from dashing people. Wheels on secrets - they won’t be removed quickly either. But they can, after all, open the hood, drag off the battery, starter, carburetor, distributor, power wires: everything is in short supply. And the limousine itself will easily be stolen. And was it worth it to fence the garden with an alternative? Whatever you collect according to this pattern, you get the same Kalashnikov assault rifle.
There is no alternative and according to a pattern of a different kind. In the story “The Long-Suffering Job Project”, the Roman Empire did not collapse, but safely exists in its pagan form that does not know mercy on four continents, possessing all modern sophisticated luxury and technical capabilities to control citizens. But Christianity, driven underground - in Russian realities deep into the forests - still shines brightly with its senseless mercy, dangerous for its bearers and incomprehensible to the beneficiaries.
And the scientists from the story “The Loop”, who, with the help of a time machine, managed in 1984 to warn Comrade Gromyko what the current promotion of Gorbachev to the post of General Secretary would lead to in 2021 (“As the USSR broke up into independent republics, our troops left Eastern Europe, "NATO sprawled at our very borders. As boundless capitalism began, a bunch of rich magnates appeared, there were wars with Georgia and Ukraine, a bloody conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Corruption developed at all levels, there was a collapse of medicine and education, people's protests began to be severely suppressed by the police" ), - did not imagine how the salvation of the USSR from Perestroika would turn out. And when they saw the fruits of their efforts with their own eyes - hunger riots at factories, instant coffee in Moscow privileged orders, the privileged opportunity to call intercity out of turn and Biden calling for the Internet to be allowed in the USSR - they were horrified and turned the time machine back into the past. Better Rebuild...
Sergey Litvinov, known to readers as the author of detective stories written together with his sister Anna, demonstrates in his new book not only plot ingenuity, which would not be surprising in general, but also genuine novelism. He masterfully prepares the surprise of the finals. This is especially expressive in the best, perhaps, story of the collection “I want an Antonovka”. His hero, contemporary screenwriter Ivan Guryev, receives an offer from higher powers: “You can go to any past day - your personal life or human history - and change it as you please. You, today, will be able to move in time and meet yourself yesterday. Or, of your choice, with your parents, grandparents, or distant ancestors. Or even with those people who have nothing to do with you personally - but with whom it is important for you to see for some reason. And in the past, you can do anything. Try to change it in any way." Ivan's head is spinning from the choice given to him. What to grab onto? Of course, there were a lot of stupid things that I would like to remove from my own life, but first of all, he remembers two of his friends who died of cancer. They would help! But what could he change in their lives? One was irradiated during military service, the other fell ill already in Israel. No, there's nothing to be done about it, fate as it is... And then Ivan remembers a man who might need his knowledge of the future! This is Vladik, his great-uncle, a brilliant young scientist. In 1937, he was shot, his wife Talochka was crippled in the camps, and his relatives miraculously managed to snatch their three-year-old son from the terrible millstones. And Ivan goes to Leningrad in 1937. This act is not just brave, but selfless, since the traveler is not provided with any protection in the time he has chosen, and the opportunity to return is questionable ... And the time in which, leaving his beloved wife and a well-established life, Ivan falls, even with everyday signs alone causes he has only one thought: "How can you mock your own people like that - but after all, no angels are enough, and a whole angelic battalion!" However, he seems to succeed in wresting his great-uncle from the clutches of fate: having intercepted Vladik on the way home from work, he convinces him immediately, what is worth, go to the station and leave, hide. To lie to Talochka on the phone that he is leaving her because he fell in love with another woman - all her love suffering is better than a crippled body and soul and a son who grew up without parents. Having completed this mission with a not entirely clear ending, Ivan returns to the familiar modernity. However, not quite familiar. Immediately upon his return, his friend Ilya calls him. It turns out that he did not die of cancer, and he did not leave for Israel either. And friend Kolka, although he was ill, received his vaccination and is now more alive than all the living. The stunned playwright looks up and sees a photograph above his desk.
“On it, in black and white, we were also depicted with my wife, and the whole background testified that we were in St. Petersburg: a kind of garden, and behind the old houses of pre-revolutionary folds. But behind our backs with my wife is a monument. Something similar to Mendeleev, who is standing at the Technolozhka. Just like Mendeleev, the cast-iron man sits at the table. But at the same time, he peers into the contents of the retort. I have never seen such a monument in any Petersburg. He has never been there. I took a closer look, and the features of the monument seemed familiar to me. My God! Yes, it's him! He! Vladislav Dmitrievich! The man whom I had just, in 1937, put on the Leningrad-Chelyabinsk train. My cousin grandfather. Only he is much older! In bronze, he is a real patriarch, a man of about seventy, stern, hairy. Yes! And the inscription on the base of the monument confirmed this!
VLADISLAV DMITRIEVICH KOLOMIYTSEV
And below are the years of life:
And even lower, on the pedestal, it was carved - in the same large letters as the surname: TO THE PERSON WHO WAS OUT OF CANCER.
Do not believe those who say that nothing depends on our dedication, because "it will still be the same." Sergei Litvinov convincingly proved the opposite.