Winner, 2008 Locus Award for Best Novella
This story appears in my collection Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, 2007
Listeners to my podcast heard me read this story, After the Siege, as it was written, shortly after returning home from a family trip to St Petersburg. My grandmother was born there, back when it was Leningrad, and she lived through the Siege of Leningrad as a little girl. She’d never talked to us about those years, but then, walking through Petersburg, she opened up and the stories came pouring out, stories that scared and appalled me. After the Siege is a science fictional re-telling of those stories, with much artistic license.
I gave first publication rights to this story to Esli, the Russian sf magazine that had published some of my stories in translation before. In return, Elsi has given me the Russian text to release under a Creative Commons license. The first English publication will come shortly in the online magazine The Infinite Matrix, which published my story I, Robot and other pieces.
The day the siege began, Valentine was at the cinema across the street from her building. The cinema had only grown the night before and when she got out of bed and saw it there, all gossamer silver supports and brave sweeping candy-apple red curves, she’d begged Mata and Popa to let her go. She knew that all the children in the building would spend the day there — didn’t the pack of them explore each fresh marvel as a group? The week before it had been the clever little flying cars that swooped past each other with millimeters to spare, like pigeons ripping over your head. Before that it had been the candy forest where the trees sprouted bon-bons and sticks of rock, and every boy and girl in the city had been there, laughing and eating until their sides ached. Before that, the swarms of robot insects that had gathered up every fleck of litter and dust and spirited it all away to the edge of town where they’d somehow chewed it up and made factories out of it, brightly colored and airy as an aviary. Before that: fish in the river. Before that: the new apartment buildings. Before that: the new hospitals. Before that: the new government offices.
Before that: the revolution, which Valentine barely remembered — she’d been a little kid of ten then, not a big girl of thirteen like now. All she remembered was a long time when she’d been always a little hungry, and when everything was grey and dirty and Mata and Popa whispered angrily at each other when they thought she slept and her little brother Trover had cried thin sickly cries all night, which made her angry too.