Vladimir / Volodymyr Savchenko, "Mixed up"
Info and Questions for Reading
Vladimir Savchenko (1933-2005) was born in Poltava, Ukraine. (Volodymyr, his original name, is the Ukrainian equivalent of the Russian Vladimir, which means “rule the world.”) He studied at the Moscow Power Engineering institute and worked in the Cybernetic Institute in Kyïv (in Russian = Kiev). He published his first story in 1955, and wrote in both Ukrainian and Russian. Some elements of our story are present in his early work – such as the 1959 story “Second Expedition to a Strange Planet,” which looks at contact with intelligent crystalline life forms. His background and work in cybernetics deeply influenced his writing, especially his 1967 novel Открытие себя, published in an English translation by Antonina Bouis in 1979. It’s from that same series by Collier/Macmillan, with an introduction by Theodore Sturgeon. (The blurb on the back reads: “The stunning implications of man’s control over his own biology… A corpse is found in an electronics laboratory, throwing the entire institute into turmoil. Suddenly, the body undergoes a bizarre transformation that opens up a starling new scientific vista where the perfectibility of man can become a glorious reality or else descend into an unimaginable hell.”) I have a copy of this translation, in case the blurb tempts you. Savchenko won several major prizes, including the Aèlita Prize for contributions to Russophone science fiction in 2003. He died in Kyïv in 2005.
Russian Wikipedia counts “Mixed Up” (Перепутанный, also translatable as “The Mixed-Up One”) as one of Savchenko’s late stories (first published in Russian in 1983, though the first Ukrainian publication dates from 1980 - late in the period of Stagnation), and it notes that it’s one of his works dealing with human super powers.
Questions for Reading:
- This is a new translation by science fiction specialist Kevin Reese. If you have any comments about word choice or other elements of the style (or even if you notice a typo or missing word), let me know: he’ll be glad to hear back from you as new readers.
- What do the names in the story suggest about the role of national origin in the world of the story?
- Note the science and technology: the mechanism of virtual travel (psychonauts), the intelligent creatures with whom humankind is now in contact, the references to the workings of the human brain and senses?
- What is the role of Russian and world culture (especially music and poetry) in the story?
- Where is the Volga river, and do you have any associations with it as a reader? Why might a facility like this one be located there?
- Why do the people at the institute want to return our hero to normal as soon as possible?
- If you have any kind of synaesthesia, how does Maksim’s compare to your experience?
- Why doesn’t Maksim want to be recalibrated? What does he feel he has gained from the neurological mix-up he has undergone?
- How does the shape of the story support its theme?