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Victor Pelevin: S.N.U.F.F. (S.N.U.F.F.)

With Pelevin you know what you are going to get: in-your-face, vicious satire, mocking Russia and Russians in particular but certainly not only them, political incorrectness; language games; and, of course, post-modernism. This novel is certainly no exception.

Our hero, Damian-Landolpho Damilola Karpov, though everyone calls him Damilola, is a post-Antichristian lay existentialist, a liberative conserval, a humble slave of Manitou and simply a free nonpartisan spirit, accustomed to using my own reason for thinking about everything in the world. And as for my job, I’m a reality creator. The book is set sometime in the future. America and China have collapsed. They were replaced by the narco-state Aztlan, which included the Spanish-speaking south of Ameriza and the former state of Mexizo. Aztlan divided the Siberian Republic (i.e.Russia) into various bantustans, each one forced to speak its own dialect. We now have two states: Big Byzantion (aka Big Byz) and Urkaine (sic), with the people of the latter calling themselves Orks. The Orks are uncultured and uncivilised while the people of Big Byz have more advanced technology and are more sophisticated. There is no doubt that, for Pelevin, Big Byz is the US and Western Europe and the Orks are the Russians and non-EU Eastern Europe (more or less).

Damilola’s job is reality creator which is, in fact, a live news cameraman or, as he wittily points out, more accurately dead news cameramen. His job is to film wars (of which there are many) for CINEWS (pronounced sinews) Inc. However, in order to film wars, there has to be one and part of his job is to help start the wars. He does this to make snuffs. While we might assume that this means snuff films, i.e. films about killing people, which, in fact it does, S.N.U.F.F. is actually an acronym for Special Newsreel Universal/Feature Film. S.N.U.F.F. is just one of the many words used on this novel which has one meaning for Damilola and his contemporaries and a somewhat different meaning for us. Early on in the novel, Damilola, together with his colleague, Bernard-Henri Montaigne Montesquieu, who is a discoursemonge, set out to start a war. Bernard-Henri’s job is basically to create a casus belli (or, indeed a casus belly, as Damilola tell us) which he does very well. There is another reason for the wars. When they try to abolish sacred war, Manitou starts taking the blood that is due to him through mass murders that are committed by solitary crazed individuals. Nothing like that happens during a war. Nourishing Manitou with blood is a cosmic necessity. And the Orks are ideal victims. (They are more like an opponent who was repugnant and odious in all his manifestations. But not especially strong. So that he never caused any serious problems).

At the beginning of the novel, War No 221 is about to start. Damilola has to use two local Orks to cause something of a disturbance when the Ork Kagan (i.e headman) comes along the road, to enable Bernard-Henri to basically cause trouble. The Kagan is wittily called Torn Durex (Durex is a major manufacturer of condoms). The two Orks he picks are a young couple, Grim and Chloe. They have nominally gone fishing but, in fact, have gone, in theory, for a bit of love-making in the woods, though when it happens, Grim is too shy, though Chloe is quite eager. Bernard-Henri is sent out on a transport, while Damilola stays at home, operating Hannelore, his remotely-operated camera-cum-rocket-launcher. Hannelore entices the couple out of the wood, makes them lie down in the road and waits for Torn Durex. When he appears, Bernard-Henri also appears, making a speech attacking Torn Durex. His guards react, Hannelore shoots them down and War No 221 is launched.

From this point out, Pelevin leads us into an ever more complex, witty and mocking story. We follow the story of Chloe and Grim, as they become what we might call reality TV stars. We learn about the Manitou. Manitou is their God but also an anti-Christ. With a lower case m, manitou also is their currency and the word for TV/computer screen. We follow the war in some detail which reads not unlike some inter-galactic war out of a Hollywood blockbuster but with a bit more fun and certainly a bit more blood and gore. We learn about the sexual habits of the people. The age of consent is forty-six (and rising), though that only refers to filming. Damilola belongs to GULAG (a word clearly meant to mock GLBT). Gay is gay, L is lesbian, A is animalist and G is Gloomy (an obvious mocking of gay), while U is Unspecified and includes all sorts of coprophages and fetishists who don’t dare to come all the way out of their poo-smeared closets even in these supremely liberal of times. Damilola is a Gloomy. Gloomies are pupophiles, generally called simply pupos and their sexual activity involves robot dolls, known as suras (short for surrogate wife – no, there are no male ones). These are now very sophisticated and, while you can use the factory pre-sets, you can change these to make them change their behaviour. You can also put them on pause. Damilola’s sura is called Kaya and she very much has a mind of her own, particularly when her bitchiness level is set to high. Indeed, she falls in love with Grim which is just one of the many plot complications in this novel. She can also perform dopamine resonance, a special kind of sexual activity which Damilola finds irresistible and which is not documented in the manual.

From Russia and Russians to TV reality shows, from the English (Without the English, there would be no fish & chips. They invented tabloids and hypocrisy) to religion, from gays to women, from TV to the army, from sex to Wikipedia, very little escapes Pelevin’s mocking. It is, as always great fun, action-packed, never letting up the pace and showing no mercy for anyone.

First published 2011 by Eksmo
First published 2015 in English by Gollancz
Translated by Andrew Bromfield