Alexander Jablokov


I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction, with a new novel, Brain Thief.

The name is pronounced Yablokov, and the legal name is Jablokow.  My best friends can't spell or pronounce it, so you shouldn't worry about it either.

More here

Write me at alexjablokow [at]

I'd love to hear from you.





"How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry", Asimov's Science Fiction July/August 2017(out now)

"The Forgotten Taste of Honey", Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 2016

"The Return of Black Murray", Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2016

"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2014

"Bad Day on Boscobel", The Other Half of the Sky.

"Feral Moon", novella, Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2013

"Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance", Daily Science Fiction, November 6, 2012

"The Comfort of Strangers", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2012

"Blind Cat Dance" reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best Science Fiction of the Year 28

"The Day the Wires Came Down", novelette, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2011

"Plinth Without Figure", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2010

"Warning Label", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine August 2010

"Blind Cat Dance", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine March 2010

Brain Thief, a novel, Tor Books, January 2010


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Reboot blog



Is there such a thing as personal nonfiction?

Nonfiction exists as a category, of course.  I'm reading Roger Crowley's Empires of the Sea, about the 16th century struggle in the Mediterranean between the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans, and have no reason to doubt Crowley's account of the siege of Malta or the fall of Cyprus.

But personal memoirs are also fall into "nonfiction".  That is starting to seem much more dubious.  Many supposed memoirs (James Frey, Holocaust memoirs of being raised by wolves or fed by girls throwing apples across the fence, J T LeRoy, etc.) have recently been shown to be partly or largely fictional.  I don't think the truth-quality of memoirs has dropped.  I think the revelation of their falseness has been made easier.

One of my favorite blogs, prairiemary, recently mentioned something that has been out for a few years that, I will admit, did disturb me.  On Thursday she mentioned that the opening of Annie Dillard's memoir, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where her tomcat comes through her window at night with bloody feet and leaves bloody pawprints on the bare skin of her chest didn't happen to her, but to a male student of hers, who gave her permission to use it as her own.

That book is wonderfully written, but I'd always doubted the "some mornings I'd wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood".  My body?  Covered?  Some mornings?  I'd buy some blood on a nightgown once, and some dead animals (as Mary mentions) at other times.  The most common way memoirists distort events is to take the occasional or unique and make it habitual and characteristic of a period.

So:  did I "always doubt" it?  Or did it just occur to me, thinking back?  Here's the real problem of truth-in-memoir.  Even I can't quite be sure.

Now I know it didn't happen to Dillard.  And, most likely, it didn't happen to her student either, at least not exactly as described.  And how voluntary was the transfer of the story from student to teacher?

Whenever something like this comes out, there are those who say it doesn't matter, that they responded to the quality of the prose, or the psychological truth.  I can never figure out what these people are talking about.

I tell lies.  That's what my books are.  They are not true.  They didn't happen, and, in fact, could not happen.  I like to think that there is quality prose and psychological truth in what I write.

But it matters if something happened, or if it didn't.  The Turkish fleet really was repulsed at Malta, and really did conquer Cyprus.  Discovering that the dramatic defense of the fortress of St. Elmo at Malta was a fictional creation intended to boost the spirit of a beleaguered Europe would meaningfully change our perception of 16th century history.

Maybe that doesn't matter to some people.  It does to me.


Actors and Their Histories

I'm part of the aging cohort of subscribers to the Huntington Theater, one of our local theater companies.  Huntington productions are often worthy, and occasionally appalling--but not in a good way (newer playwrights sometimes give the impression of never having actually seen a play--but I'll have to deal with those experiences at a later time).  Last night was Emlyn Williams's The Corn is Green, a self-congratulatory autobiographical play of literary education that managed to be both earnest and creepy.  It dates from the 1930s, when there were a lot of stages to fill, and a lot of plays written to fill them, and a lot of people who took them seriously.

It starred Kate Burton (Richard Burton's daughter), and her son.  Richard Burton was Welsh, the play is set in Wales, so Kate and her son spoke of their Welsh heritage, their visits to Wales, etc.

Last time I saw Kate Burton on the Huntington stage, she was in an excellent production of Hedda Gabler.  I don't recall her mentioning her Norwegian heritage then.

I would love to see an actor in one of these things not mention the heritage, the teacher, the experience in youth, or the neighbor that connects them to the play, but admit that they are actors, and that their personal background is completely irrelevant to their performance.  It is their skill and talent that makes them successful, and it is the author's words that connect them, and us, to the play.

But then what would the busy graduate students who probably write these things do with their time?  And what would I be doing while waiting for scene changes?


Edge Urban -- Why I Live Where I Do

Sometimes I wonder why I live where I do.  It's crowded and expensive.  And there are no sophisticated boutiques or elegant watering holes near me.  My local bar, where I meet my friends to drink, is Joe Sent Me, half sports bar, half college hangout.  It does have a mural of Bogey and Elisha Cook Jr. on the wall (though, for a long time, I wondered if Elisha Cook Jr. was Richard Widmark, though I couldn't imagine what movie that was from).  I live in suburban Cambridge.  I have a driveway and a yard.

But I have a half hour bike ride to work.  I work in a curvy building in the Financial District building in 1873, and the bike messengers get high in the little park in front of my building, beneath an incongruously rustic statue of Robert Burns and his dog--don't ask why that is in Winthrop Square.  When the temperature gets below 10 degrees or there is ice and snow on the ground, I take the subway.

And today I drove 15 minutes to Lincoln, and went cross-country skiing through fresh snow for a couple of hours.  My favorite trail goes past Walden Pond.  That landscape is certainly not wilderness--I was in the Sawtooth Range of Idaho a few months ago, and I know the difference.  It is, instead, a humanized landscape.  You cross roads here and there, sometimes the trail goes across farm fields that have to be kept operational by severe land-use restrictions, and you're never very far from a house, but it is silent and elegant.

Some of Massachusetts, like everywhere, is thoughtless and ugly.  But a lot of it is thoughtful, and lived-in, and gives the distinct impression that there may be more to things than getting and spending.  And I like it fine.


The Ultimate Critic

I'm currently reading Rodric Braithwaite's excellent Moscow 1941, an account of the German invasion of the Soviet Union with a focus of the life of the city itself.

Russia had been in the grips of the Terror since the start of the big purges in 1937:

In the four years before the war more than thirty-two thousand people died at the hands of the secret police in Moscow and the surrounding Region.

Two corpse disposal zones had been set up outside the city, one at Butovo, the other at Kommunarka.  Most of the elite, including artists and writers, were killed at the NKVD dacha at Kommunarka.  And it's here that I learned of a figure I had not heard of before, but about whom I intend to learn more, Vasili Blokhin:

Many of these executions were carried out by a squad under the command of Vasili Blokhin, a specialist in such matters.  Blokhin is said to have personally killed the theatre director Meyerhold, the writer Isaak Babel and Mikhail Koltsov, the journalist and hero of the Spanish Civil War.

Blokhin also took a key role in the 1940 Katyn Massacre of the Polish officer corps, "wearing a leather apron and cap and long leather gloves":  he apparently carried out many of the killings of the Polish POWs personally, with a German Walther pistol he favored because it didn't jam when hot, at Mednoe, north of Moscow.

How is it that Blokhin is not better known?  The winnowing of writers in those years was brutal:  first silenced, then tortured and killed.  And if Blokhin did indeed carry out the killings personally, he was probably the last person to see them before they died.  Whether they saw him, I don't know.


Stealing Characters

I recently watched "The Letter", a 1940 William Wyler movie starring Bette Davis.  I picked it up because the culture guide Terry Teachout, who blogs at About Last Night, has written the libretto to an opera based on it (or, rather, on the original Maugham story).

It's about murder, betrayal of ideals, and corruption in pre-war Malaya.  That "pre-war" is interesting.  This was filmed a little more than a year before Japanese forces conquered the entire country, besieged Singapore, and destroyed this entire society. So, no matter what long-term guilts or pains the characters expected to have, they were completely overcome by events.

I get story ideas from movies, more more so than from books.  This happens in several ways.  I always try to predict what will happen next, and if I'm completely wrong, my prediction can serve as the basis for a story.  And I'm often more interested in minor characters than the movie, with its limited airtime, can be.  In this case, it was the lawyer Howard Joyce's legal assistant Ong Chi Seng.  Ong is the one who presents Joyce with his occasion of sin, by offering him something he desperately needs.  It's played pretty straightforwardly in the movie.  Aside from a cute bit with Ong's tiny little car, he's just a device.

But he can be a device because he's linked into a complex society the ruling Brits do not have real access to.  Who is he?  Has he helped the lawyer before in this way?  Does he have motivations aside from money for doing it?  None of this is the point of the movie, and so none of these questions are answered.  He serves as the guide to a crucial confrontation in the Asian part of town, but again, solely as a device.  Fixers and liminal characters like Ong are interesting, and he could easily have been a major character, with the murder and trial just as background to his own activities.

I have not yet read the original story.  I'm curious to see what role he plays there.  If it is similarly minor, I can claim him, or a version of him, for myself.