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Interview: Andy Stewart on “Likho”

Andy StewartWhat was the inspiration for “Likho,” or what prompted you to write it?

When I finished writing “Wormwood Is Also A Star,” (F&SF May/June 2013) I didn’t immediately anticipate continuing with that world or any of its characters. There seemed to be a finality and a solemnness to the piece. But then I read a photo essay about the “stalkers” of Pripyat, the young men and women who, armed with dosimeters and flashlights and cans of spray paint, would trespass into the Exclusion Zone, exploring the urban ruins—that’s when ideas began to percolate. I started thinking about Pripyat, not just as a setting, but as a symbol—a ghost-town, a modern-day apocalypse, a place that has become mythological in its own right—and I wanted to explore all this in greater detail. Rereading the extraordinarily good Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers helped to remind me of the SF tradition I was working within as well. There was more to explore in this alternative world.


Was there any aspect of this story that you found especially difficult to write?

One of the hardest parts of writing a ‘close’ alternative history (meaning, that the alternative thread is very nearly identical to our own) is that current world events can often get in the way. I consider “Wormwood” and “Likho” to be as much political thrillers as they are sci-fantasy, both dealing with the tenuous relationship between Ukraine and Russia through the years. The Maidan Revolution in Ukraine was unfolding just as I started penning the first draft of “Likho.” I knew I wanted to write a main character who had been on the front-lines of that cause, as it embodied the ongoing fight for democracy in a world bending toward fascism. However, when Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula occurred soon after, I actually had to stop writing for a bit. Real history was beginning to catch up with my fiction. I had to be very careful not to step on the immediate, both in service of the story, but also to make sure I wasn’t trivializing a current life-and-death conflict. Thankfully, a full civil war did not erupt in Ukraine, and did not result in a Cold War-esque division of the country, like Germany, which is the political situation Sonya and Klim, the main characters of “Likho,” find themselves in. But, honestly, it remains a frightfully close reality in my mind, especially as world events continue unfolding in eerie similarity to the Cold War era.

In response to finding inspiration, history is absolutely directly related to current events, and inspiration has to come from both. The impetus for political action and reaction today have to be traced way back to the old national wounds, and the old victories. I guess that’s a major theme with the characters in “Likho” as well. There’s a continuum, whether that be political, emotional, or in mythology and legend.


You’ve now written two novellas in this world do you think you’ll have more stories to tell here, or perhaps work these stories into a novel?

I’ve actually written a third section in this sequence that features Mitka’s estranged daughter, Rossi, in a near-future Ukraine on the brink of peace after being divided along East/West political ideologies for years. I’ve interwoven these narratives to create a novel manuscript I’m calling Black Tin. It fits in that “fix up” tradition we sometimes find in the SF market, something like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Icehenge, or Gene Wolfe’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus, but I think it also works as a traditional generational narrative as well. I’m hoping to find a home for it soon.


“Likho” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

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