Review: Telluria by Vladimir Sorokin at Strange Horizons

I've been waiting a while for Strange Horizons to run my review of Vladimir Sorokin's 2013 novel Telluria (published in English by the indispensable NYRB Classics with a translation by Max Lawton). So long, in fact, the Telluria was already on my list of last year's best books. This review is a chance to elaborate on why I found this novel so exciting, so thought-provoking, and so completely SFnal. Telluria is part of a sequence in which Sorokin imagines a post-post-Soviet future he calls the New Middle Ages. In this novel, he posits a drug that allows its users to hallucinate a world that reflects their deepest wishes and desires, then come back and try to make that world a reality. As I write in the review, this allows Sorokin to consider "how the project of worldbuilding affects the world".

To begin with, Telluria's interest in this question is signalled by its determination to mix subgenres, tropes, and settings at every given opportunity. The opening chapter features two dwarves (or, as they're referred to here, littluns) named Goran and Zoran. In the grips of revolutionary fervor, they have engaged two giants (biguns) to cast brass knuckles for them, part of a store of weapons they intend to use to fuel a proletarian uprising. The chapter also features handheld AI devices, known as smartypants, and knights.

It's a deliberate hodgepodge of genre elements that leaves the reader scrambling for purchase. Nor is that feeling quick to abate. Goran and Zoran, and their revolutionary scheme, will not appear again (though they will be referenced by other characters). Instead, subsequent chapters will veer off into other corners of the novel's world, shifting style and voice. Over the course of fifty mostly quite short chapters, Telluria will present the reader with social realism, bedroom farce, epistolary exchanges, plays and screenplays, political pamphlets, poetry, picaresques, war and action stories, historical drama, and more.
Few novels I read in 2022 were as original, as achingly political, or as fun to read as Telluria, and I hope that this review puts the novel on the radar of more SF readers.


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