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Magazine Review: Night Picnic Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 2

night picnic journalRussian literature has a strong interest for me. This is due to my background as a Russian linguist in the military several decades ago, but also a result of reading writers like Dostoevsky (in translation, natch) even before I studied the language. One aspect of Russian writing I particularly enjoy is the penchant for the fantastic. This may be due to some extent to the marvelously descriptive variety of the Russian language, the infinite variety of possibilities it can invoke. My favorite Russian writers are the ones who wrote in this disturbing vein:  Gogol (particularly The Inspector’s Nose), Bulgakov (The Master And Margarita is a masterpiece), and most of all, the great genius Vladimir Nabokov with Invitation To A Beheading and Bend Sinister.

Night Picnic Journal therefore interested me greatly, a bilingual journal of literature and art which publishes work in both Russian and English with a focus on fantasies with multidimensional metaphysical meanings. Intrigued by the prospect of speculative fiction from Russian and English viewpoints, I ordered the latest issue. This is a very handsomely designed and bound paperback with a tete-beche binding:  the front has the English version of the journal while the back sets forth the Russian in reverse. Translations are largely handled by the editorial staff, Oksana Williams, editor, and Igor V. Zaitsev, Editor-in-Chief.

These stories struck me as worth commenting on:

Crow Baby by Elizabeth Paxson succeeded in evoking a strange, otherworldly atmosphere with her tale of an old woman in the woods who takes in a strange bird, but seemed vague on what point it was trying to make, perhaps deliberately so.

Disappearance Of Time by Mr. Zaitsev was a good example of the kind of comic, absurdist illogic in mundane circumstances that seems to be a Slavic specialty.

The Family by James M. Lindsay is an apocalyptic piece about a strange plague that well conveys the heartbreak a father knows from having a severely disabled child.

The King Of The Sea by Josiah Olson is a straight fiction piece about an elderly couple on a cruise where the wife develops a whale watching fixation. Except for the evocative coda at the end, this resembled the kind of fiction you see in the New Yorker or Paris Review

A Shooter Of Our Time by Alex Stearns is the best story of the lot, a hardboiled yarn about “a good guy with a gun” with an ironic twist ending I won’t give away.

In addition to the short stories, there’s also flash fiction and poetry. I tried to figure out some of the Russian versions of the stories after I’d read the English ones. While most of it was not understandable to me due to a long lack of practice and a Russian-English dictionary, the translations seem to have been masterfully done. This is quite an accomplishment on the editors’ part, a tribute not only to their erudition, but also their determination to put out a quality journal.

I recommend Night Picnic Journal to anyone interested in literary speculative fiction, particularly those interested in Slavic cultures.


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