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monica cure


by Gheorghe Săsărman

Translated from the Romanian by Monica Cure

The sixth sense—stereognosis, as the special sense of spatial orientation had been named—stood no chance of hereditary integration. The categorical verdict of the geneticists had provoked intense agitation among the Stereopolitan population and stirred up heated discussions throughout the entire world. Visionary geniuses had dreamed up the audacious project of a fully dimensional city, in which the tyranny of the horizontal and the vertical, of the right angle, of the plane, would be abolished; many generations of constructors had toiled to pave the way for the realization of the materials and technologies that would make such a feat possible. No one had foreseen the terrible outcome.

The fully dimensional city—Stereopolis—was now a reality. A reality in which a humanity of tens of billions had put its hopes, as the ultimate chance for survival. It had become evident that only complete control of all three dimensions in urban planning could halt the covering of the entire surface of the planet in an endless carpeting of city that would slowly suffocate it in its own malignant tissue. The slanted curve, tridimensional surfaces, and spatiality, made possible not only the free and organic composition of functions, but also the full inhabitation of the environment, the rational resolution of constructional problems, optimal sun exposure and ventilation, convenient distribution of consumer goods, and efficient waste collection. A score of locations, where the Stereopolitan prototype in variants of increasing perfection would be repeated, had been prepared. A dozen construction sites had already been set in motion; the complicated process of assembling the spatial elements was directed by the most powerful computers in existence.

After the new Stereopolitans had settled into their freshly-made residences, the first worrying signs began to appear: the people weren’t able to adapt to the completely unprecedented demands on their sense of orientation. It was as if an ant, accustomed to moving across a piece of straw or among the stalks of a wheat field, had been buried in a pile of sand, from which it was expected to immediately emerge. Numerous disappearances were registered—especially from among the elderly and teenagers, who were unable to rely on the help of electronic guides—and the time lost during daily commutes was incomparably greater to what it had been before (though the distances to be crossed now were much shorter), which caused complaints. Under the pressure of public opinion, of lengthy media campaigns, special measures were adopted to supplement the means of public transport and perfect the automatic guidance system. The number of those who got lost sharply declined; however, a strange illness, later dubbed stereopolitis, appeared, which caused quite a stir throughout the entire world. At first, those affected by this malady suffered from spells of dizziness, accompanied by the persistent feeling of nausea. Then, their balance was thrown off and they experienced piercing occipital pain. By the time the doctors found an explanation, and decided on a treatment, the patients had succumbed to the illness, because it evolved extremely rapidly. In the end, an agreement was reached that the only solution was for people who had just been affected by stereopolitis to be evacuated from the city; in this way, though they would never completely recovery, it was possible (after a long period of convalescence) for the formerly ill to be reintegrated into a life of useful activity—under the interdiction, of course, of ever returning to Stereopolis.

Given that the number of illnesses were skyrocketing, they began taking preventive measures: the city’s entire population was subjected to special tests, which resembled those employed for the selection of candidates for long term missions in outer space. Those who passed the preliminary stages then went through an intensive training period, which ensured relative immunity. Those who “flunked” were not admitted; for their own good, everyone who lacked the aptitudes was evacuated. In time, the illness died down and very rarely did a case or two flare up. Visitors were advised not to stay in the city more than a week, and those who wanted to move there definitively—if they were not rejected after the first tests—did their prescribed training period. It seemed as if the situation had been definitively resolved. Meanwhile, several new fully dimensional cities were about to be brought into use. The selection committees were busily winnowing out the candidates, the training of the first sets had started, some had already moved in. The official inauguration was expected to take place any day now. That is when the truly dramatic turn of events happened: it was determined, as I was saying, that stereognosis—which the locals had struggled so hard to obtain—was not transmitted to one’s descendants except completely at random.

Those hit worst by the geneticists’ conclusion were the inhabitants of Stereopolis itself. For their children’s sakes, many left the city, only to find out afterward that they could no longer readapt to the predominantly bi-dimensional, traditional orthogonal urban space; in the end, a few of them returned. Others made the decision never to procreate; but it was against their nature and it did not last long.

—I fear for the future of this city… thought the Architect.

He saw people abandoning their children in order to avoid endangering their lives, he saw them committing them to special institutions until the age when they would undergo the tests—and woe to those who failed to pass them! He saw how, void of meaning, the family itself disintegrated, preparing society for a new kind of individual freedom, but plunging the individual into the darkness of isolation, loneliness, and bitterness.

Is there really no other way?



by Gheorghe Săsărman

Translated from the Romanian by Monica Cure

The inhabitants of Sinurbia suffered from an indeterminate nostalgia…

At first, the calm waters of the gulf rolled here, contrasting picturesquely with the precipitous cliffs of the shore. Later, after the idea was born of building a floating city near the overpopulated island, the waters of the gulf came to be streaked with bizarrely shaped ships. Not even a month passed before the inauguration of the first neighborhood—that of the builders. Soon, the other neighborhoods were added to it, the downtown, places of work and leisure; then the builders gathered up their tools and left, aboard their strange ships, just as unexpectedly as they had arrive. Their purpose destined them to an irremediable restlessness.

The city, suspended over the infinite greenish depths of the sea, had its traffic routes arranged in such a way as to avoid any intersections. The highways, subway lines, those of the monorails, and the pedestrian walkways, together made up an immense spider web, organized on several levels, which opened onto monumental esplanades and squares, flanked by the public buildings representative of that metropolis. Though they maintained an intense and agitated civic life, at home, the Sinurbians became quiet, meditative, as if only then did their true nature rise to the surface. As a result, out of all the edifices, homes enjoyed the greatest consideration. The houses—over which European fashion had failed to exert even the weakest influence for over a century—preserved an unaltered simplicity that had become tradition. The storage furniture was skillfully concealed behind the sliding walls; similar walls allowed the separation or combination of different rooms. The floor itself, whose elasticity and hardness could be adjusted according to one’s wishes, served as chairs and beds. Among the bright colors of the interiors, white dominated. In the living rooms, in a niche in one of the walls, a painting, a sculpture, or a simple flower vase could be seen.

And still, the inhabitants of Sinurbia felt themselves affected by an indeterminate nostalgia…

One day, one of them started turning their yard into a garden, in which they worked hard to reconstitute, in miniature, the landscape of their island of origin: rocks, sand, moss, bushes, a pool of water and an arched bridge, a pathway made from a few stone slabs, a gazebo with an upturned eave. The idea proved to be contagious: in short time, each inhabitant was one garden richer, a garden that was arranged according to the ability of its owner, but resembling, without fail, the native landscape. At once, the Sinurbians were free of the nostalgia.

Inexplicably, the waters of the gulf—proverbial for their calm—lost their tranquility. The face of the sea furrowed in ever more threatening billows. The sun vanished behind a dark curtain of clouds. A formidable typhoon shook the city from its very foundations. The foundations held firm. Built with foresightedness, the buildings, streets, and houses held firm as well. Only the gardens were completely devastated by the fury of the waters; at dawn, when the storm abated, the gardens had been replaced by deep sinkholes, caving in, at the bottom of which a tiny pool of sea darkly glistened like an eye.

Grimly determined, the people filled in the sinister pits, replaced the slabs, and started over arranging their gardens, to which they now felt their existence organically linked. Another typhoon made their work all for naught, and another, and another… Several people, terrified, exhausted, abandoned the fight. The number of those who had given up skyrocketed. Soon, only the first gardener, the one who had taught the inhabitants of Sinurbia how to get rid of their nostalgia, still stubbornly insisted on reinstalling, in the patched up yard, the bushes, the rocks, and the gazebo. But as soon as he would finish, a typhoon would start up again.

They advised him to quit. To no avail. Then, boiling with hatred, they shoved him into the chasm which again gaped in the middle of his yard, which he had been just about to refill. The sea’s eye gleamed wildly and smacked, swallowing him. They returned to their homes grinning, and accompanied by the curses and wails of his widow, by the heartrending cries of the three now fatherless children. The waters of the gulf became calm again, the sky cleared up; since then, not at a single typhoon ever descended over the city again. In each yard, however, the sea’s eye kept watch.

The Sinurbians were suffering again now, but not because of the indeterminate nostalgia of before; they were tormented by an overwhelming sense of dread. Every time they looked at the dark mouth that had taken the place of each of their gardens, they had nightmares. In secret, they gathered up their families and possessions, and one by one, they abandoned the city, vanishing without a trace by moving to the swarming island. Here, in complete safety, they atoned for their crime by teaching the islanders the fine art of gardening.



by Gheorghe Săsărman

Translated from the Romanian by Monica Cure

*** Editors’ note: With this tale, we continue our series of publishing the missing entries from Săsărman’s groundbreaking 1975 urban fantasies’ cycle. The original collection of imaginary cities was censored in Communist Romania, and appeared in various states of incompleteness in other languages, incl. translated into English by Ursula K. Le Guin. We are grateful to Monica Cure for her faithful translation of the remaining pieces of the puzzle, hitherto unavailable in English language. For more information, read the introductory note to Motopia, the first entry in the series. ***

—Who’s there! Antiope snapped, bolting upright.

She thought she had heard the padding of footsteps on the marble flagstones; the noise sounded again. She grabbed a torch from its stand and moved forward a few paces. Who dared to defy orders and enter, in the middle of the night, the palace? Just what were the girls from the gateway guarding? Right as she was about to call the guards, the intruder showed himself from between the pillars; instinctively, she put her hand to her hip, forgetting that, before going to bed, she had put away her sword, belt and all. Their eyes met in the flickering torchlight. Her heart suddenly struck by Eros’s arrow, the feared queen demurely lowered her eyelids.

—How dare you?… she struggled rather unconvincingly in the vigorous arms which had lifted her into the air, as if she were a child, making her feel the ground slip from under her feet.

Until that moment, she had never suspected that she could be carried in this way, rocked almost imperceptibly, but still dizzyingly, by a virile torso bursting with strength, and set down afterward, with such natural ease, in her fragrant bedding. The pointless question which had remained on her lips from the initial second left her, along with any thought of resistance. How this disturbing young man had managed to reach her chamber no longer interested her in the slightest, nor how he had successfully made it through a citadel as well guarded as that of the Amazons, on whose streets a man had never stepped until then.

Defeated without a fight, Antiope surrendered to the pleasure of discovering love, with whose complete arsenal her people had been so uselessly and unsuspectingly equipped until then. As only a perfect warrior could, she deployed—as if she had known then since always—all the snares of the art of loving and being loved: the fiery wide-eyed gaze; the mischievous glance, shot from beneath eyelashes; the fierce, suffocating embrace; the delicate caress of fingertips; the chaste kiss on the forehead; the tender kiss on the eyelids; the shy kiss on the cheek; the guilty kiss in the palm of the hand; the perverse kiss at the base of the ear; the long breathtaking kiss, with bloodied lips; the greedy kiss; the weightless kiss, like a shadow, like a memory…

The passion unleashed by the game stole her last ounce of lucidity. She whispered invented names for her unknown groom, she called him, she desired without knowing, without being able to put into words that state of excruciating expectation that had reached a paroxysm, which tortured her as not even the most terrible wound could have. The closer she felt him, the more intense that state became, driving her mad. The unexpected scream which started from the base of her throat, from the bottom of her chest, or maybe from deeper, was not so much a cry of pain—an unknown, unrepeatable pain—as it was a sign of the flesh’s victory over the barren tradition that had subjugated the city of virgins until then.

Alarmed by the piercing scream, the Amazons on guard duty rushed in, and seeing their queen writhing and moaning, speared the one holding her captive under the weight of his body before she could make the slightest gesture of resistance. And by the time Antiope roused herself, they had snatched the dead body from the profanatory embrace and dragged it into the square, to the entrance of Artemis’s temple, where they intended to let it rot. The unhappy queen, however, stole the corpse one night and secretly buried it.

She futilely tried afterward, even at the cost of her reign, to break the androphobia of the Amazons, to end the barbarous custom of invading neighboring citadels and kidnapping girls—whose right breasts the Amazons would later cut off so that once the girls became warriors they could more easily wield the shield and spear—in vain she proclaimed love, the union of woman and man, which had been destined by nature from the beginning as the fulfillment of life. Not even the miracle—never before seen in Virginia—of maternity had the power to convince the adamant ascetics. Cast off the throne, pelted with stones and banished from the citadel, fate refused Antiope even her final consolation: her child was born a girl!