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Helpless to the Song

Mars: Stories

By Asja Bakić (Translated by Jennifer Zoble)

25 Aug, 2020



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Asja Bakić’s 2015 Mars: Stories is a collection of speculative fiction stories. The 2019 English translation is by Jennifer Zoble.

Mars reminds me of Otsuichi’s gothic horror collections, still available from Haikasoru (alas Haikasoru!). Granted, that is a comparison useful only to those of you who have read Otsuichi. 

Bakić’s pieces are all short and very much to the point. They are sometimes so focused that the reader is surprised by the sudden arrival of the conclusion. The tales exist in a world long on weirdness but very short on mercy or kindness. Those characters who possess the desire to help others generally lack the resources and those with resources are more inclined to be predatory than kind. Despite this, the collection is somehow not utterly bleak. 

Day Trip to Durmitor”

Death is not followed by oblivion. Nevertheless, the reality of the afterlife is a disappointment to the disaffected writer. Happily, there is a way to return to the living world. Less happily, there are important questions about the revival process the writer should have asked but didn’t.

Buried Treasure”

Spooky children cope with tragedy. They are poorly supervised by adults who are, without a doubt, better off not knowing exactly what the children are doing. 

The Talus of Madame Liken”

The unexplained murders of two people, one a friend, are back-burnered by a recluse when he is visited by a young woman whose true nature is not immediately apparent. 


A woman wakes with no memory of who she is. Her husband is on hand to help. Unfortunately for him, she is more cunning than he expected. 

Asja 5.0

In a world where human sex drives have dwindled, reproduction has been reduced to cloning. For the most part. The protagonist pays for her room and board by writing pornography for a man who still experiences some sexual twinges. She craves freedom but it will come at a price. 


A would-be philanderer has his fun ruined when his next conquest proves all too cooperative. 


A troubled but successful author recontacts her best friend after a long separation, only to discover that she has fundamentally misunderstood their relationship. 

The Guest”

A journalist visits a town whose central figure can make everyone’s wish come true — within limits. The ruler’s talent is not entirely unique. There are consequences. 

Heading West”

Offered a chance to escape the ruins of their city, the family accepts, leaving their neighbours to perish.

The Underworld”

Haunted by dreams of his world’s destruction, the author visits — briefly — an Earth where books are both forbidden and precious.

This reminded me of certain Ray Bradbury stories like The Exiles”, or Usher II”, in which a rationalist Earth rejects fantasy and wonder. 

Afterword (by Ellen Elias-Bursac)

An informative essay about the author. Odd that it was not used as an introduction.

Mars: Storiesis available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon US), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).