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I love science fiction like this: describing life in a world with substantially different values and assumptions, and it’s all treated as perfectly normal. But it’s not SF. It’s about the life of an extremely rich Russian banker in mid-‘90s St Petersberg, and it’s stuffed full of paragraphs like this:

“Timofey brought around the usual convoy – two Mercedes 300 M S.U.V.s and one S-class sedan, so as to form the  letters M-S-M, the name of my bank, for, you see, I am something of a moneylender. As we took off for Chartkov’s neighbourhood, the call came through from Alyosha, my well-bribed source at the Interior Ministry, warning that a sniper was set to pick me off at the English Embankment. So we took another route.”

This is the first mention of assassination attempts, incidentally, and they aren’t part of the plot, just something that the protagonist Valentin gets called about every so often so he has to change his plans. The actual plot is about Valentin commissioning a painting from Chartkov (some excellent interactions between the ultrarich and destitute, including one mother-daughter prostitution team). There is Murka, who “fell into the role of rich, urban girlfriend – asleep most of the day, drugged out at night, weepy and sexless in between.” There are many different components jostling for space in this story, but the worldbuilding is appropriately strong and the disparate components feel like they all fit in the same world.

Shylock on the Neva by Gary Shteyngart

Availability: Print only

Word count: 7,000

First published: The New Yorker, September 2, 2002

Where to find it: There are a lot of uploads online, but as far as I can tell they’re all illegal. Feel free to correct me if you can read cyrillic and I’m wrong.

Wild East: Stories from the Last Frontier, edited by Boris Fishman, 2003, Justin, Charles & Co.

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