Tag Archives: Good things

The Lost Art of Awesomeness, reborn in Russia

Do you remember a time when movie posters weren’t just blue and orange? Remember when movie posters and video game boxes were awesome? What do I mean by awesome? See below:

exterminator

That, dear readers, is the art of awesomeness. Where do I even begin to describe the sheer insanity of this masterpiece? Alright first of all we’ve got a guy who clearly does not give a fuck. Massive explosion behind him. Zero fucks given. The beautiful woman who is mildly concerned about the explosion clinging to his shoulder? Nope. Still reading 0.0 on the Fuck-o-meter. Why is he so nonchalant? There are some mysteries man is not yet ready to know, but I think it has something to do with that gun.

I mean look at that weapon! It is as far beyond our most modern firearms as they are beyond the first matchlock muskets. It spits in the face of all known knowledge of firearms engineering. It literally feeds from three magazines at the same time, and seems to consist of a double-barrel shotgun, an assault rifle, a grenade launcher, and two who-the-fuck-knows-whats on the bottom. I don’t care how many Magpul after-market parts you put on your AR-15; it will never achieve but a fraction of this awesomeness.

Of course in America, the other source of artistic awesomeness was to be found on the cover of home video games, such as those for the NES, Sega Genesis (Mega-Drive for you Europeans out there), and SNES. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

operationc

You picked the wrong day to break out of your glass tube, Mr. Giant Scorpion!

That there is the box art for the first release of a Contra game on the Nintendo Game Boy. Now I can tell you from personal experience that prior to this release, nearly all Game Boy games were puzzle-games, typically variations on Tetris. That ended with Operation  C, and the very box itself seems to proclaim just that.

Just look at that! Drink it in. We’ve got a massive mutant scorpion that’s just clawed its way out of a glass tube in some kind of lab, but just before it can turn and claw our hero to shreds he starts pumping round after round into its thorax with what appears to be some kind of futuristic assault shotgun.

Hell, back in my day, even silly-looking games had incredible box art. Just look at this clusterfuck:

amagon

What’s going on in that picture? Well let me rephrase that so we won’t be here all night: What’s not going on in that picture? You’ve got everything. First we’ve got the contrast: despite very Mario-style cartoony graphics, our happy ginger hero is blazing away with what is clearly meant to be an M16A2 (yeah I know it’s ejecting from the wrong side, gun nerds). Virtually everyone around him is terrified by this. That weird lizard thing by his left leg, that skull, and even the metal Wehrmacht bird behind him. The dinosaur just looks kind of pissed, but then again there’s a fuckin’ dinosaur in this picture! Then you’ve got the evil crab. The evil grab isn’t impressed. He’s about to sink one of his claws into our hero’s leg to see what happens, but something tells me he’s only going to end up getting his shell perforated by about a half dozen 5.56x45mm rounds.

This box art has everything. There’s an undead sentient skull, a weird blue lizard, a goddamned dinosaur, a UFO, an evil crab, a blazing firearm, a dude on steroids, the official seal of Nintendo… Oh and if you think this game’s a joke, go ahead and run it in an emulator. I’m betting you’ll get a game over half way through the first level.

Of course just like movie posters, game art has declined over the years. This is what the covers of our hit games look like now:

bo2.jpg

Oh wow! Look at that angsty, brooding hero. This could just as easily have been an album cover for Staind. No surprise that the games are easier too. There’s no “Press F to win the game” in Operation C or Amagon.

Luckily, however, the art of awesomeness has not been lost. It has survived in a new medium, specifically the cover art of Russian sci-fi and alternative history fiction. In the past I’ve shared a few examples of such art, but today I’ve got a much larger haul. Let us experience and evaluate some of the finest specimens of Russian fiction book covers.

american

The first example is from the book The American: Path to the North by Roman Zlotnikov and Igor Grinchevskiy. This piece resonated with me because it’s called “The American” and in fact this image captures exactly what it’s like to be an American in Russia. I mean that might as well be me on the cover there. Alright I don’t have hair like that, but the lab coat, the pocket watch, the scientific laboratory with firearms and ammunition- it’s basically as if you compressed my nearly-ten years in Russia into one image. I’m sure other American expats and former expats would feel the same way about this image.

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There’s plenty of modern Russian art depicting WWII scenes, but how many of them have a Red Army soldier wielding dual TT33’s John Woo style, shooting an Estonian Waffen SS man? The answer is I have no idea, but this book cover sure does. Had to take points off for the cuffs on SS-man’s tunic, however.

book2

Look, I’m the first person to say that the whole zombie genre isn’t just getting old- it’s been old for at least five years by now. But if Hollywood is going to give us Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, we might as well have a zombie apocalypse set in the early Soviet Union. And if we have Stalin armed with a hammer and decapitating zombie Trotsky with a sickle well, so much the better.

bookcover

Tsar Nicholas II and his father Alexander III blazing away with machine guns designed in the state which overthrew their regime (and killed the former). What else can I say about this? I can’t help but notice this book has three authors. The only thing that could make this novel more awesome is if neither of them ever spoke to one another until after the work was published.

cellphonestalin

Okay this book, entitled A Conversation With the Leader, posits one of the most simplistic alternative-history premises I’ve ever seen. What if, at the battle of Brest fortress in 1941, one of the defenders had a cell phone and could call Stalin with it? How would this change the course of history? One hopes that in addition to giving our hero a cell phone, the author also remembered to give the USSR a functioning cellular network as well. Otherwise this phone would be reduced to a mere distraction device to confound the German besiegers.

grandpa.jpg

Young Andrei Ivanov was always getting trouble at school. The bigger kids picked on him. His teachers said he’d never achieve anything. His parents yelled at him. He thought he was a loser…until one day. Now Andrei has been transported back to the battle of Prokhorovka in 1943! But does he have what it takes to go from zero to hero and liberate his Motherland from the fascist invaders? There’s only way to find out! Master the Russian language so you can read this novel.

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Trotsky becomes a Ukrainian nationalist and attacks Stalin, who defends himself with a portrait of Lenin. I really don’t know what to say here. My thought process has ground to a halt.

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Alright let’s start with the obvious- that’s a Nazi SS man wielding the M41A pulse rifle from Aliens. No, it doesn’t just look like it, it is the pulse rifle, full stop. Beyond that this cover turns it up to 88 with Hitler, flying saucers, and what I can only assume are snow panzers. The only question is- can allied agents manage to survive long enough to organize a resistance movement among the Antarctic penguins and end the Nazi occupation once and for all? I think we all know the answer is: You’re goddamned right they can!

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Okay so we’ve got a WWII era Red Army soldier equipped with late 30’s era German sub-machine gun killing a 1920’s Civil War era Bolshevik commissar of some sort, ostensibly to save the Russian emperor. How is this not going to cause a time paradox?  Imagine that- renegade Red Army soldiers team up with the Nazis to travel back in time and save the Russian empire from the Bolsheviks. Then, as soon as they rescue the Tsar’s family and kill their captors, each member of the time-traveling assassination squad suddenly realizes that he is illiterate, and dressed in traditional Russian peasant clothes. Oh yeah- their kids all died before they reached the age of five.

putinshirt

If only there had been Putin’s Russia instead of the Soviet Union during the Second World War! Driven on by love for their glorious leader, the ethnically homogeneous Muscovite Russian army would have easily defeated the entire Wehrmacht with knives instead of wasting precious bullets. Who needs that Red Army anyway? It was so full of Ukrainians it might as well have been the UPA!

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All I have to say about this cover is that my wife is very lucky this young woman doesn’t actually exist.

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So this cheerful novel is called Death to Britannia, and the cover is a depiction of what Anne Applebaum believes will immediately happen to the UK should it exit the European Union. Of course the comparison isn’t 100% accurate, because like many of those other books, this novel is alternative history. In this case we’ve got contemporary Russian paratroopers descending on what appears to be late Victorian Britain (the rifle appears to be inspired by the Martini-Henry). Of course just to make it “fair,” our Russian heroes are using PPS machine pistols from the WWII-era. There’s no sport in it if there’s no challenge, right?

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Saving the best for last, we have a Russian police officer magically transported to a fantasy world. Noting that the brave mounted knight may in fact Central Asian in appearance, our hero detains him with his sword.

“I bid thee halt, good citizen,” officer Kuznetsov said, saluting with his new found blade.

“Wherefore did thou stoppest me, officer?” asked the rider in a clearly foreign accent.

“I must see thy documents if thou wishest to pass!”

Hanging his head in exasperation, the rider reached into a saddle bag and produced the desired item- a scroll of vellum wrapped in hemp twine. He handed it to Kuznetsov with a sigh.

Kuznetsov looked over the strange writing and frowned.

“Thou hast not the proper seal on thy document, good rider, I fear that this carries a penalty of four hundred gold coins!”

The rider rolled his eyes.

“Perhaps, dear officer of the law, there is some way I could pay this penalty…here and now?”

Kuznetsov nodded. The rider reached into his saddle-bag again and tossed a small but heavy sack into Kuznetsov’s waiting hand.

“Methinks thou will find all the proper seals on those documents, sirrah!”

Kuznetsov felt the weight of the bag in his hands and peered into the opening at the top. Gold sovereigns, fifteen or twenty at least.

“Indeed, good rider, these documents have the proper seal. I dare say everything is in order. Thou art allowed to pass.”

And thus the rider saluted and went on his way. Kuznetsov pocketed the gold and began walking along the road toward a small town. Hopefully it would have an inn that could offer him both victuals and lodging for the night, for the next day he would set off on his true quest- the Dark Fortress Morthian at the foot off Dragonskull Mountain. There he would either wrest the Amulet of Wisdom from the corrupted elf-mage Q’alla’dain or he would perish like so many others who came before, their bones piled high about that cursed land!

***

Thus concludes our brief survey of the art of awesomeness in Russia. I look forward to feedback from the reader, as well as other examples of awesome art from around the world.

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The Good Stuff Part II: Aeroflot

Today I was planning to write a “Good Stuff” article about the subject of weddings and marriage in Russia. After finally posting the previous entry I knew that there would still be dozens of people who would miss the point and stupidly characterize it as “Russia bashing,” therefore I figured it should be followed up with a positive article where I present one of the few aspects of life in which Russia whoops America’s ass hands down. Marriage, as in the process of getting married and the traditions associated with it, is one of those categories. At least that was what I was going to do, until I saw this recent entry from one of my favorite blogs, Gin & Tacos. So it looks like the marriage article will have to wait till later this week, because here we have another aspect of life that actually happens to be better in Russia.

I highly recommend reading the article because Ed is a hilarious writer, but for those of you who can’t bear to leave my page I’ll summarize. It’s an open letter to American Airlines, who gave the author a serious dicking over during his recent vacation. Thanks to this and a few other articles I’ve read over the last couple of years, I’m starting to get wise to the fact that air travel in the US sucks now. The last two times I flew to the States I used Delta, but lately I read online that Delta is worse than Hitler. Now I realize that some American readers might be wondering how I could possibly be unaware that air travel in America sucks, but that’s what happens when you spend roughly eight years in Russia, only returning to the US twice in that whole time.

For most of my flights since moving abroad I have flown Aeroflot. I returned to Russia on Aeroflot. I then used Aeroflot to fly to Turkey two out of the three times I’ve been there, and I’m planning a fourth. I’ve flown it to Spain, China, Krakow, and Vilnius. I have never had a problem with it.  Scratch that, I had one “problem,” which I would like to relate now.

It was late December 2009, I was flying to Istanbul. If I remember correctly heavy snows had just started a few weeks prior; winter had arrived. For those who haven’t been to Russia, know that there have been years where we have virtually no snow until late December, or later. Snow may fall as early as October, but this will usually melt quickly due to bizarre temperature changes. Our flight was delayed, naturally. The explanation they gave was that the airport was short of ground crew and there was an issue with prepping our plane, so they decided to switch it for another plane.  This was probably the safest bet.  Incidentally the plane was a Russian Tupolev but I have to say that inside there was nothing radically different from a Boeing or Airbus. In total I think the delay lasted maybe three hours, but in the meantime we were given vouchers for food, in stark contrast to poor Ed of Gin & Tacos. His flight, in the summer, was delayed for “weather.” We had a fucking blizzard outside.  A similar thing happened the following year, once again going to Istanbul but in this case it was a charter airline. Delays yes, but we made it, snow be damned.

I can say one thing about my American flying experience in recent years. Without going into details, I had to travel to several American cities back in 2012. Between major cities, the only flights I could find from Delta were flights which had stops in between, despite the distance not being terribly far. What is more, some of the stops actually entailed flying in the opposite direction. There was also some kind of issue in Minneapolis involving roller bags. Apparently too many people, i.e. everybody but my wife and I, had roller bags and they had stored them in the overhead compartment, thus leaving no room and requiring people to fly with their coats on. The attendant made several requests for people to voluntarily check their roller bags to make room, but alas a prisoner’s dilemma arose and nobody wanted to check their precious roller bag.  Why the fuck are roller bags allowed as carry on luggage in the first place? Make people check their fat, inflexible roller bags and this problem will not occur.

Also despite being Delta, I don’t remember any actual meals during the flight. I distinctly remember than on flights between Phoenix or Houston and New York there used to be meals. Not the kind of meal you would get on an international flight, but meals nonetheless. For fuck’s sake I once flew from Vilnius to Moscow via UTAir, a lesser-known Russian airline, and despite the fact that it was a twin-engine prop-plane I still got a complete meal for a flight which was just over two hours.

Security checks have caught up with the US in the sense that you can no longer carry large amounts of liquid on board with you, but on the flip side despite having body scanners and making you remove your shoes the security checks are not really invasive. I’ve never heard any Russians complain about being groped. Probably the only disadvantage of Russian airports is the slow passport control, but I’ve seen worse, much worse. In Krakow we must have waited at least 45 minutes in a passport control line, around noon, much of that time standing still. Apparently a thirty-something blonde Russian woman bore an uncanny resemblance to some Salafist arms dealer and thus the customs official had to make several calls to determine if it were safe to grant her entry into Poland.

So apparently this is just one of those things I’m going to have to get used to whenever, if ever I end up back in the United States. We’re constantly told that the free market ensures more choices and greater service, and yet it seems that every major airline in the US excels at treating its customers like shit.  This serves as one of those reminders that the only reason I’m considering moving back to the US is because it is the sole other option open to me. This enjoys the company of other things such as potentially terrible internet service, lack of employment prospects, and horrible political views rooted in profound ignorance.

"The captain has turned off the fasten seat belts sign and you are now free to GO FUCK YOURSELVES!"

“The captain has turned off the fasten seat belts sign and you are now free to GO FUCK YOURSELVES!”

The Good Stuff

Over the past  week or so I’ve been thinking about how most of the posts on this blog could be construed as negative, to say the least. In part that is totally logical; the blog is dedicated to fighting distorted press about Russia, whether that press is biased against or in favor of the country.  A lot of my entries deal with the delusional rants of “Team Russia” fanatics who try to present Russia as some kind of great rising empire emerging from the so-called “crumbling” West which, oddly enough, still enjoys far higher living standards in spite of said crumbling.  On the other hand I have dealt with many hysterical “anti-Russian” articles, but even in those cases, for the sake of honestly, I’m compelled to report negative facts about Russia. In other words, no, Putin is not “killing people,” but here are actual problems the sensationalist author could have written about instead.  So even in defense of Russia, some entries naturally come out negative.

The other major factor behind this phenomenon is that I have an innate aversion to those expatish-sounding articles which paint Russia as a magical, mysterious wonderland, dropping in little Russian cultural references every other sentence so as to display my “authenticity.” When I read one of these articles where every other word is “kvas,” “borscht,” or “babushkas,” along with numerous shoehorned references to Master and Margarita, I just can’t take it seriously. It’s amazing how that style of writing affects people; one time I was having a conversation with an expat writer and he was actually dropping Russian references even though we weren’t really talking about Russia.

The last factor is a matter of privilege.  Russophile expats often love writing long lists of why it’s so great to live in Russia, often directed at Russians who express an interest in emigration.  Why would they want to leave when it’s so wonderful here? What these writers often ignore is that they don’t live here like ordinary Russians. Aside from having the ability to leave the country as they please, they are typically paid far more than the average Russian, even for the same work.  This isn’t exactly as unfair as it sounds. There is usually a reason for the gap in pay, even if it is based on factors outside of people’s control. In any case, there are many advantages to living in Russia which I am hesitant to count because they are connected to these privileges of working abroad.

So in case you, the reader, are wondering why I don’t spend more time talking about positive things in Russia, those are the conditions which shape the tone of this blog. It’s not intentional. For this reason, I have decided to implement a sort of affirmative action and periodically post something genuinely positive and informative to the reader interested in experiencing Russia. So without further ado…

Good things about Russia: Part I

The Moscow Metro

I come from a city which is in infamous for it’s shitty public transport system. As a result, I tended to admire any city with a subway system when I was younger. Now I’ve both visited and lived in many cities with subway systems and while many of them may have aspects which are far superior to those of the Moscow metro, the Moscow metro always wins hands down in any thorough comparison. The main advantages it has are price, frequency of trains, and the fact that its network is so extensive, covering most of the city. But let’s look at a little comparison based on other cities’ subway systems. I hate to sound like an expat writer here, but the Moscow metro is the Kalashnikov of public transport systems. It may not be the prettiest, but it works no matter what.

New York

I have never used the New York subway system, but I know plenty of people who have used it regularly and their complaints are numerous. For me the tipping point was when I was participating in a comments section where many New Yorkers were describing their subway experiences.  One woman made a reference to flashers on the subway. Another woman related her story. I casually asked them if this was a regular thing, because the way they wrote implied that it was. Another female New Yorker informed me that it was quite common and related her last unfortunate experience, when a late night passenger sat starring at her, apparently masturbating.

Now plenty of Muscovite women have tales of sexual harassment on the metro, but what they report simply doesn’t compare to the stories I’ve heard about New York’s subway system. Obviously exhibitionists must exist in Russia, but it seems to me that a lot of scumbags here at least observe a certain unspoken agreement that the sanctity of the metro must be preserved. So many people depend on it that the city would degenerate into chaos. For that reason, they somehow manage to resist their compulsion to whip their dicks out in public. Question their motives if you must, but that’s good enough for me.

Prague

In contrast to New York, where I have no experience, Prague is actually the foreign city I know best as I lived there for roughly half a year. I don’t remember the Prague metro ever being crowded, but there are only three lines and trains are not as frequent as Moscow. Prague’s system also has a strange paradox because unlike most transit systems, you don’t need a ticket just to get in. You buy tickets which you can validate in various places, including the station entrance, but if you’ve already done that you just walk right down to the platform. Fares are enforced by plainclothes inspectors who ask to see your pass or a valid ticket. It’s pretty rare, but sometimes they will be standing by the exits from a station platform randomly stopping people.  This creates a situation whereby if you spend any amount of time in Prague without being stopped by an inspector or passing through a random ticket-checking patrol, you inevitably understand that you could have been riding for free the whole time.  Yes, there can be heavy fines for riding without a valid ticket or pass, but that’s only if you get checked. As far as I can remember I had been riding trams and metro trains in Prague for at least a month before an inspector asked to see my ticket, which means that whole time I could have ridden for free. Kind of a dick move there, Prague.

Istanbul

As far as I know, Istanbul’s metro system is relatively new. I only used it one time during the three times I was in Istanbul.  I liked the wide train cars, the fact that you could change lines without going up or down any escalators, and the fact that special color-coded stickers which look like footprints can be followed to the other station when transferring. On the other hand, the system didn’t seem to cover much of the city, at least when I was there. In Istanbul’s defense, this is not exactly a city you can go digging up left and right.

Beijing

Beijing’s stations look super-modern, and I was impressed by what seemed like rather spacious, modern trains. Beijing stations also have special glass panels which help channel traffic on and off trains, as well as force would-be suicidal people to find other means of offing themselves. The main disadvantage of the metro is the fact that you have to x-ray any bags before entering. That and the confusing ticket system where you have to keep your ticket to get out. Shanghai’s system was a little bit more annoying, as far as I can remember. The shocking thing about the Beijing metro hit me the  first time I experienced the Monday morning rush. Prior to that, I had been surprised to see that the metro didn’t seem unusually crowded at all.  That Monday was different.  Imagine being in a tunnel, shoulder-to-shoulder, chest to back with hundreds of people, wall to wall. At transfer stations, this slowly moving mass of people is controlled by a sort of traffic light system, whereby one tunnel full of people has to periodically wait while another one empties into the other station.  The Moscow metro can get ridiculously crowded on a daily basis, but I’ve never seen anything like what I saw that morning.

Boston

The T is the first subway system I ever rode on, so it holds a special place in my heart. Having said that, I was in Boston in 2012 and the infrequency of trains and the price seemed really noticeable. That and you can be run down by the trains in Park Street station. The Moscow metro has truly spoiled me.

London

All British people I know share the opinion that the London Underground is essentially the public transport equivalent of Adolf Hitler. I found the fare system ridiculously complicated and the trains were apparently designed by hobbits.  Also I learned that when you hear “mind the gap,” they really mean mind that fucking gap. It’s not even a gap, it’s a goddamned cliff. Also instructions in London often tell you to “alight” at a particular station. I do not “alight.” I’m not a fucking butterfly.  The only advantage the London Underground has over the Moscow metro is the fact that it is in London and not in Russia. That’s it.

So there you have it, folks. Other subway systems may possess an advantage or two over that of Moscow, but in the end the Moscow metro either wins because it simply has more advantages of its own, or because that other system also has a glaring flaw, be it frequent station closures or an unusual preponderance of public dick-wavers. For the time being, the Moscow metro conquers all.

The ever-expanding web of public transport.

The ever-expanding web of public transport.