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Literature / Great Gusliar

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Great Gusliar (Великий Гусляр) or Gusliar Wonders is a Speculative Fiction cycle by Kir Bulychev. It is set in the eponymous small quiet town somewhere in Russian Vologda region. The town is loosely based on Great Ustyug (Veliky Ustyug) with some elements of 19th century Vologda note . It seems to attract all kinds of aliens, time travellers, magic creatures, mad scientists and just weird events. Usually benevolent but troublesome. Everything is played either for laughs or for satire.

A total of 7 novelets and over 100 short stories were published in 1970-2003 (collected in 7 books) and a few more appeared after the author's death. Several stories were published in English in Gusliar Wonders collection, some more were translated by fans.

Common tropes in Gusliar stroies:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Both Grubin and Mintz have their moments. The former, technically, isn't a professor.
  • Achievements in Ignorance: Frequent, defined by Rule of Funny.
  • Action Survivor: Udalov in Orthogonal World, Esteemed Microbe and some other stories.
  • Aliens in Vologda Region: While the town is fictional, the region is quite real.
  • An Aesop: Common in more serious (i.e. satiric) works. Frequently lost on characters. Always forgotten by next story.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Goldfishes for Sale; many of Mintz inventions. In both cases the wish-granter is friendly, just forgets some details or side effects.
  • Brainy Baby / Child Prodigy: Wunderbaby. Eventually forced to stop excelling.
  • Body Horror: Played for Laughs in Goldfishes for Sale. Many people tried to help a crippled fireman and wished for him to get "a new arm" or "a new leg". He ended up with 10 legs and too many arms to count. Corrected with another wish.
  • Butt-Monkey: Udalov often ends up this way.
    Grubin: This octopus electroshocked Udalov.
    Lozhkin: A nightingale can electroshock Udalov. This doesn't prove anything.
  • Cassandra Truth: The central idea of Stubborn Marsyas — Mintz and Grubin need to make great effort to be taken seriously by mainstream science. In Free Planet Needed nobody believes Udalov when he tells of his space adventures.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Zigzags, whatever better fits a particular story. For some aliens starships may be as common as cars on Earth, for some each journey is like a Manhattan project.
  • Comic-Book Time: Udalov's son was in elementary school in mid-1970s and in technical secondary school in late 1980s. Mintz reached 60 somewhere in 1990s. Most other characters haven't aged at all.
  • Commander Contrarian: Pogosyan. Actually, Devil's Advocate, but his attitude prevents realizing that.
  • Crossover: With Alice, Girl from the Future by the same author.
  • Extinct Animal Park: "Retrogenetics" is about Professor Minz's recreation of several prehistoric species, including the pterodactyl and the cave bear. This proves extremely successful, and the animals live contentedly in a reserve.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: In Goodbye to Fishing it's a favourite pastime on the planet Palistrata. Udalov ends up pranked by a local kid and spends most of the story swapping bodies. Later he swaps bodies with his wife, and she refuses to change back.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Grubin. His squeaking Perpetual Motion Machine is a Running Gag.
  • Green Aesop: Usually something along the lines of "Let's not violate nature protection laws." or "Our planet is so polluted, we should be ashamed to show it to extraterrestials."
  • Hugh Mann: In The Personal Touch aliens damaged a road, decided to fix it and put a "Roadworks ahead" sign. With a three-legged Humanoid Alien.
  • In Spite of a Nail: In Edison and Grubin (allegedly a letter written by Lozhkin to a magazine) Grubin is fed up with his neighbor constantly putting on loud music and decides to go back in time to "neutralize Edison". He disappears in the past, and Lozhkin is listening with alarm, waiting for the music to break off at any moment, but it doesn't. In the epilogue, the magazine's editor notes that he didn't find the name of Thomas Edison in any sources and that the first sound-recording device was invented by an Avtandil Kiknadze.
  • Meaningful Name: Inverted for Udalov ("daring") and Grubin ("crude" or "rude"). The former is a conservative and cautious manager of a construction company; the latter is a master craftsman and a nice guy.
  • Mundane Utility: Plenty, usually bordering Misapplied Phlebotinum.
    • In A Mine of Information Udalov's uses his super power (absorbing any written information within a few meters) to catch a couple of crooks and then is accidentally DePowered by his love of theatrics.
    • In Hotel Vacancy the device to access parallel worlds is used to make extra rooms in the hotel.note 
    • In Titanic Defeat the town's bureaucrats send an SOS to the stars to get paper.
    • In Don't Make the Wizard Mad the wizard with Reality Warper powers uses them to extort tribute from fishermen — half their catch.
  • Negative Continuity: Most stories don't affect subsequent stories with a few rare exceptions. Every contact is a First Contact, at least for Earth outside Gusliar (after some point townspeople learn to tell home stars of starships by their design). If there was a worldwide catastrophe, it's never mentioned again. If some event brought a golden age for the whole Earth, it's never mentioned again. If there used to be an Applied Phlebotinum to solve the current crisis, it's never mentioned again (except parallel worlds). If a character leaves the town intending to never come back, he'll be back in next stories. New characters may arrive: Mintz, Beloselsky.
    • Or maybe all stories are set in different parallel universes. When something significant happens, that universe diverges from the main bunch and is no longer revisited.
    • About the only thing not retconned is Udalov's status as a galactic traveller; though mostly for convenience or a quick gag.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Great Gusliar and adjacent rural area.
  • Only Sane Man: Udalov in stories where he isn't alone.
  • Pastimes Prove Personality: Udalov likes fishing. Grubin is a tinkerer, spent several stories engraving The Song of the Wise Oleg on a rice grain. Lozhkin writes open letters.
  • Playful Pursuit: * In The Martian Philtre, Savich, right after his rejuvenation, has a dream involving himself and a lovely nymph engaged in a chase like this.
  • The Professor: Professor Mintz.
  • Science Marches On: In Reason in Captivity Lozhkin quotes Brehm's Life of Animals that octopuses are as primitive as worms. Possibly lampshading, since Lozhkin is much older than the rest of the cast.
  • Soapbox Sadie: 60-something Grumpy Old Man Lozhkin, especially in his open letters. May come with weird ideas like walnuts being sentient (Save Brothers) and loafers literally stealing other people's time (Chronofagi), but there's no guarantee he's wrong.
  • Standard Sci Fi Setting / Space Opera: Every story set in space, with emphasis on Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale. Conversely, it also applies to stories with aliens on Earth, as Gusliar represents the whole planet. Mercilessly lampshaded, often ridiculed, but played straight.
  • Summon Everyman Hero: Usually Udalov. Usually because they crash landed where he was fishing (The Personal Touch), or focused a teleporter/telepathic beam on his flat and cannot afford refocusing (Help Needed, A Mine of Information). In Esteemed Microbe he is selected to represent Earth because aliens find him the most average person on Earth.
  • Time Travel: Discussed and deconstructed in Who Can Say? Then played straight. Briefly touched in Help Needed, in a similar way.
  • Unfazed Everyman: A whole city of the Unfazed Everymans, no less.
  • Urban Fantasy: Don't Make the Wizard Mad, Goldfishes for Sale. Considering the softness of SF, most stories set on Earth may qualify.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Great Gusliar as a place, handwaved in Gusliar Wonders: Introduction with Techno Babble. Udalov is the biggest magnet as a person, starring in the majority of the stories.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Help Needed ends with an alien paying Udalov several thousand dollars. In USSR in 1972. There's no legal way to spend them, exchanging them would require explaining where he got them, illegal exchange doesn't seem to be worth the troublenote , plus he would still have to explain how he got those money with a wage about several hundred dollars per year.
  • Xenofiction: Much of Reason in Captivity is told by an octopus-like alien, who didn't expect to find life outside water.