The linguistic differences between English and Russian have long fascinated Anatoly Belilovsky, whose new poem highlights them using a hearty, warming metaphor. You can slurp up “Word Soup” [in our January/February issue, on sale now!]
Asimov’s Editor: Is this poem part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
AB: It is part of the universe of language. Although I don’t have formal linguistic training, I am functionally bilingual, and the differences between Russian and English never cease to amaze me. English sentences are like sandwiches: their ingredients are fixed and their order matters. Russian sentences are soups: in addition to the major components, prefixes, suffixes, and endings may be added to adjust their flavor and texture, to most exacting specifications, and stirring changes the emphasis but not the overall meaning.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
AB: I’ve used soup before as a metaphor, in a story appropriately titled “Borscht,” in that case for love and loss and family; it seemed a small stretch to look at it as a metaphor for language. And having translated short fiction from Russian to English, “Word Soup” is also an apt description of what you get if you translate too literally.
AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this poem?
AB: I think of Asimov’s for each and every story I write. This happens to be the first time Asimov’s and I thought alike.
AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
AB: A more or less continuous subscription since 1978. Some of the best authors and some of the most influential (for me, anyway) stories I have ever read. A companion on dark days and light. A bucket list publication since I started writing a decade ago.
English sentences are like sandwiches: their ingredients are fixed and their order matters. Russian sentences are soups: in addition to the major components, prefixes, suffixes, and endings may be added to adjust their flavor and texture, to most exacting specifications . . .
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
AB: My fellow punning bilingual (actually polyglot) Vladimir Nabokov.
My fellow physician short fiction writer, Anton Chekhov.
My fellow Asimov’s author, John M. Ford.
Living authors whom I am proud to call friends, and respect too much to name drop.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
AB: Art as a driving force in history rather than its mere reflection.
My longest published story is an alternate history in which the great poet Pushkin survived his duel. I also wrote a “musical warfare” series in which, for example, Russian pop repels Napoleon from Moscow, Wagner invades France with “Die Walkure,” and John Philip Sousa combats submarines at sea.
AE: What is your process?
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
AE: What inspired you to start writing?
AB: I had things to say, I guess?
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
AB: In my day job I am a pediatrician. Pandemic whack-a-mole takes up most of my time right now.
AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
AB: The major result of my medical career is that I can’t really write medical-adjacent SF: I get far too critical of small plot holes and science gaffes, to the point of paralysis.
I was also a chemistry major, and a teaching assistant in Russian, but somehow I am far more forgiving of my own handwavium in these fields.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
AB: @loldoc on Twitter. Equal parts puns, punditry, and (self)-promotion.