Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tunguska, Part 1 (fictionalized history)

(In 1908, the last major Earth impact from an asteroid or comet occurred in the unpopulated expanse of eastern Siberia. 830 square miles of boreal forests were leveled. In this latest fictionalized history series, we travel back to 1908 to experience the "Tunguska Event." Prior series: X-ray Martyrs and Westinghoused.)

A Choum
Traditional Home of the Evenki
Reindeer Herders of Eastern Siberia

June 30, 1908
Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia
7:10 a.m.

Smoke from the cooking fire billowed from the top of the choum. The acrid, white clouds filtered through the pines and disappeared into a deep water sky.

The Evenki tribesman emerged in the morning sunlight.

He cracked branches with leathery, bronze hands. Behind him, meat simmered in a blackened pot. The moist heat brushed away the chill clinging to the shadows.

In the near distance, his reindeer herd bleated.

His splintering hands paused, and he turned an ear to the southeast.

The deep voice of thunder carried from the far mountains.


Lake Baikal, Russia
7:12 a.m.

The woman plunged her hands into the ice blade waters.

She churned the stained cloth and ground it against rocks. As she stood and wrung, the vast waters of the lake stretched to the horizon. The last mirror of ice had broken. Vast depths brooded in slow indigo waves.

She turned towards home with her bucket of fresh water.

But stopped at the sound of birds. Flocks upon flocks beating their wings above the trees.

She looked up, expecting to see them black in a migrating river.

She winced.

Dropped the bucket and sloshed water onto her legs.

High overhead, a second sun trailed a column of light and clouds.

Like the trunk of a great tree, it stretched towards the northwest.


Krasnoyarsk Krai
7:14 a.m.

The thunder rumbled a second time.

That brought the sound of birds.

The man backed against the choum.

The sky was clear. It was an evil omen to hear thunder birds away from a storm.

Another sharp rumble.



The bird wings beat faster.

A boom reverberated in the Earth.

Over the trees, the sky filled with light.

And the entire world ignited.

Pine needles smoked. The reindeer moss covering the forest burned.

The man pulled at his searing clothes to save his skin.

The wind swooped down. Breaking. Smashing.

The roar swept up the man and his choum.

Its talons tossed him into the living grasp of the trees.

On to Part 2.


Anonymous said...

Paints a moving picture.

Bernita said...

Vivid. Personal.
I especially like the detail of the sloshed water against her legs.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what it is, but Tunguska seems to be everywhere lately. I first heard about it last September on the Bad Astronomy blog, and since then I've run across a podiobook called Singularity and numerous other articles on the event.

And now here you are adding to the circle of Tunguska with your own fictionalized take on the event. Looking forward to reading more, Jason.

Aine said...

I'm eagerly anticipating the rest of this series!

I still say you should write a book of fictionalized history vignettes....

SzélsőFa said...

Did you know that the word 'shaman' (sámán in Hungarian) means 'Man of Knowledge' in Evenki language?

I'm also curious to see the rest.

virtual nexus said...

Stunning. I recently watched a documentary on asteroids which explode above the surface of the earth; there is an African desert scattered with glass produced as a result of the flash heat. Similar to atomic blast...

Chris Eldin said...

These historical series are my favorite part of your blog. I loved Westinghoused. I read it several times.
Can't wait to see where this is going.

Sarah Hina said...

Gripping, Jason. The ominous buildup is so vividly captured. Such a peaceful landscape you've painted, with the trauma up high, and sweeping downward.

When it hit, I saw a Turner painting. A beautiful world on fire. Can't wait to read more.

anne said...

No dialog - that's not very common with you, is it (in series I mean)?
I'm being inexplicably sensitive to the man being burned alive, redeem yourself in the next part! :)

Anonymous said...

Wayne, thank you!

Bernita, much appreciate, my friend.

Jim, I was fascinated the first time I learned about the Tunguska Event a couple of years ago. I'm not one for the far-out theories. What intrigues me more is how something so huge could go nearly unnoticed because of the remoteness of the location.

Aine, it's an exciting prospect, and a daunting one at the same time. The charm of them here is that they are short and varied. I wonder if it would break down in a longer form.

Szelsofa, I didn't know that! The meaning makes sense, given their beliefs. Actually, the Evenks believed that a Shaman caused this event.

Julie, yes, they believe an aerial explosion was the cause for Tunguska too. No crater has been found.

Church Lady, this one is going to be more charming, I think. I'm looking forward to creating more. I have to agree that these series have an extra intrigue to them. Maybe because living through a historical event is not like reading about it. In these vignettes, I try to humanize them and take away that momentous feel that historical accounts have, but reality does not.

Sarah, thanks. :) When I did some quick research for this part, I learned that the travel of the object through the sky caused great effects. The object may have heated to as much as 30 million degrees. Before it even exploded, its transit caused fires and shock waves.

Anonymous said...

Anne, gotta mix it up, you know.

BTW, I think he'll be okay. Mostly. It's based on one of the eyewitness accounts.

raine said...

A powerful piece, Jason.
Looking forward to the rest!

Vesper said...

Ahhh, I was waiting for this!
Powerfully written.

How sure are we that it was an asteroid? :-)

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

So glad you started your serials again! This is fascinating. Just gives me a taste though, I am wanting more!

The Anti-Wife said...


Jaye Wells said...

What a neat idea, Jason. And so well-executed!

Anonymous said...

Raine, thanks. :)

Vesper, scientists believed it was a comet until recently. Now, apparently there is some evidence that a heavier asteroid is also capable of exploding in the atmosphere.

Ello, I know you like the serials. :) They're fun for me too, but also stressful. I write them piece by piece, so I'm never really sure that I'll pull it off well. I like the challenge, though.

Anti-Wife, soon.

Jaye, thanks. =)

Scott said...

I like your descriptions, Jason, but if I were you, I would be more specific. For example, you use the terms, meat, cloth and branch. What kind of meat, angus steak (I doubt that!)? What kind of cloth? I'm researching for a western right now, and I'm finding in Kansas most pioneers only had calico and a cloth that starts with G (gingham, or something like that) available to them, although better fabrics could be brought in from the east. But it wasn't widely available, especially to the poor. Little details like that can make a huge difference in the perception of fictive reality you are trying to create.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the feeback!

I agree that adding a touch of detail to the tree branch would help establish the location of scene, one of the main purposes of the vignette. I disagree about the other two, however.

To me, details are the author's way of signalling the ultimate point of a piece of writing, the purpose. If I added multiple points of detail about this man's house, it would send the signal to reader that the focus is how this tribe of peopled lived. The impact from what happens later (no pun intended) may be diminished back that misdirection.

Details are a spice I use conservatively. When I run across a piece that I feel is over-described, it feels like a room full of people talking at the same time. I have trouble getting my bearings or coming away with a clear impression.

Scott said...

I don't think supplementing the word cloth with the word cotton is over-description. At least in my opinion, and of course we have different styles, whenever I see an semi-abstract word like car, truck, or tree, I feel a bit left out, or pulled a little away from the story. I want to be hypnotized, and words like those to me are distracting, like a nudge that wakes me from a dream.

Of course now I will probably find those terms everywhere in my writing now that I've pointed it out.

Especially in historical fiction, again imho, I think these details are not superfluous (check that spelling). For instance, what is the harm in saying "venison" instead of meat? Isn't that providing a clearer impression?

Anonymous said...

It could be more a matter of style, I suppose. If so, it might be hard to find common ground on this one.

In my style of writing, I'm chosing a very particular mood and message to send. The reason I might not say "cotton" or "venison" is because in doing so, I would be indicating that these facts are important. In saying "meat," I was conveying the simplicity of the meal, it's essential nomadic nature. If I say "venison," now the reader thinks more about the animal, about how he may have hunted it, about their memories of hunting with their father, etc. Those thoughts might be exactly what I want to evoke in a different story, but not in this one. So in one story, the detail is important, in another story the detail is unimportant. I don't think adding a certain detail is good for all stories.

If I were a painter, I guess I'd be an impressionist. My approach is to give 2 or 3 details per scene to guide the reader toward my vision, then let the reader fill in the rest.