From Moscow With Love

“But I am greedy for life. I do too much of everything all the time. Suddenly one day my heart will fail. The Iron Crab will get me as it got my father. But I am not afraid of The Crab. At least I shall have died from an honourable disease. Perhaps they will put on my tombstone. ‘This Man Died from Living Too Much’.”
― Ian Fleming, From Russia With Love

Plano, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day Twenty Four – The Servant

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty four – The Servant, by Sergey Terentyevich Semyonov

Read it online here:

The Servant

S. T. Semyonov was born to Russian peasant parents and lived a life of menial manual labor. He used that tough life as fodder for his stories.

I’m not too familiar with his writing – and am not sure if they all are like today’s selection – but I would imagine they are. It’s a simple story, a moral tale, that starts with a young man down on his luck. He has lost his position due to having to return to his village for military duty. He has been walking the streets of Moscow, hungry, for days – looking for work – any work.

When he runs across a silver tongued old friend, he has a ray of hope and a bit of good fortune. But he learns about the cost of his good fortune and has to make a decision. It seems that he chooses wisely.

“What’s the use of wasting words? I just want to tell you about myself. If for some reason or other I should ever have to leave this place and go home, not only would Mr. Sharov, if I came back, take me on again without a word, but he would be glad to, too.”

Gerasim sat there downcast. He saw his friend was boasting, and it occurred to him to gratify him.

“I know it,” he said. “But it’s hard to find men like you, Yegor Danilych. If you were a poor worker, your master would not have kept you twelve years.”

Yegor smiled. He liked the praise.

“That’s it,” he said. “If you were to live and serve as I do, you wouldn’t be out of work for months and months.”

It’s a short, straightforward tale – but a fine humans story about making the best of a difficult life.

The author, Semyonov was killed by bandits at the age of fifty five. It doesn’t get any more difficult than that.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day nine – The Zero Meter Diving Team

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day nine – The Zero Meter Diving Team, by Jim Shepard

Read it online here:

The Zero Meter Diving Team

Mendacity. That’s a word I’ve thought about a lot ever since I first heard it as a kid – from the movie version of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” of course.

Mendacity means lying. But to me it has always meant something a little different – a little more. Mendacity is that kind of lying that is so central to the way you live your life that you actually come to believe what you are lying about.

Sort of like The Emperor’s New Clothes. I always thought that the people wanted so badly to believe that they are deserving that they actually came to believe the emperor was clothed. The part of the story they never tell you is that after the little kid spilled the news that the emperor was naked, he, and his entire family, were arrested, tortured, and executed – then every evidence that they ever existed was destroyed.

Today’s story, The Zero Meter Diving Team tells of a society full of mendacity. Mendacity, toadyism, nepotism, and incompetence. The result of all this dysfunction is something a lot more terrible that a naked emperor.

We all lived under the doctrine of ubiquitous success. Negative information was reserved for the most senior leaders, with censored versions available for those lower down. Nothing instructive about precautions or emergency procedures could be organized, since such initiatives undermined the official position concerning the complete safety of the nuclear industry. For thirty years, accidents went unreported, so the lessons derived from these accidents remained with those who’d experienced them. It was as if no accidents had occurred.

I’m glad I found this story – I have discovered an author that I want to read some more. In The Zero Meter Diving Team he has done more than his share of historical research and it feels real. Placing a fictional story in a setting where well-known events are occurring has the challenge to make sure the horrific crisis doesn’t overshadow the human drama.

And it doesn’t.