Winner of the 2003 World Fantasy Award
A cycle of six thematically linked stories, droll renditions of the nightmares ensuing upon misplaced, or (of course) excessive, bibliophilia. A writer encounters a website where all his possible future books are on display; a lonely man faces an infinite flow of hardback books through his mailbox; an ordinary library turns by night into an archive of souls; the Devil sets about raising standards of infernal literacy; one book houses all books; a connoisseur of hardcovers strives to expel a lone paperback from his collection.
“Zivkovic is, as ever, polished, and frighteningly intelligent.”
“Zivkovic’s unnerving gems cast the rest of the Leviathan 3 anthology into the shade…”
—Washington Post, USA
- Polaris (Serbian and English, 2002)
- Plato (Serbian, 2002)
- Narodna Knjiga (Serbian, 2002)
- Ministry of Whimsy (English, US, 2002, as a part of the Leviathan 3 anthology )
- Minotauro (Spanish, 2004, as a part of the Historias imposibles omnibus)
- Laguna (Serbian, 2004, as a part of the Nemoguće priče omnibus)
- Cavalo de Ferro (Portuguese, 2005)
- Izvori (Croatian, 2005)
- Istiklal (Turkish, 2006)
- PS Publishing (English, UK, 2006, as a part of the Impossible Stories omnibus)
- Tiderne Skifter (Danish, 2006)
- Grafitti BC (Polish, 2008)
- Blodnjak (Slovenian, 2008)
- Everest Media (Serbian, 2008)
- Kurodahan Press (English, Japan, 2010)
- Zavod (Serbian and English, 2009, as a part of the Nemoguće priče / Impossible Stories omnibus)
- Cavalo de Ferro (Portuguese, 2010)
- TEA (Italian, 2011)
- DuMont Buchverlag (German,2011, as a part of Der unmögliche Roman omnibus)
- Bookfolio (South Korea, 2011)
- Cavalo de Ferro (Portuguese, 2015)
- Minval (Turkish, 2015)
- Athar (Saudi Arabia, 2015)
- Cadmus Press (English, Japan, 2016, as a part of the Impossible Stories I omnibus)
An excerpt, translated from the Serbian by Alice Copple-Tosic:
E-mail isn’t perfect. Although Internet providers probably do their best to protect us from receiving unwanted messages, there seems to be no remedy. Whenever I open up the in-box on my screen, I almost always find at least one from an unknown sender. Usually there are several; the record was thirteen junk mail messages, sent over just a few hours, in between two sessions at the computer.
When that happened I really got irritated and changed my e-address, despite considerable inconvenience. I gave my new address only to a small number of people, but to no avail. The pesky e-mails soon began to arrive once again. I complained to my provider, who admitted in a roundabout way that they could do nothing to help. They advised me just to delete everything that didn’t interest me, particularly since dangerous computer viruses often spread through junk mail.
The recommendation was unnecessary as I had already been deleting my junk mail, even though I was unaware of the viruses. At first, I’d read these messages in bewilderment, but after I realized what was going on, I deleted every e-message of unknown origin without delay. I didn’t even give them a cursory reading, in spite of the fact that the senders took all kinds of pains to attract my attention. Bombastic, flickering headings with fancy, ostentatious illustrations advertised a variety of exceptional offers not to be missed at any cost.
One proposal, for example, would make me rich overnight if I invested money through a glamorous-sounding agency from some Pacific Rim country I had never heard of. Or, after a two-week correspondence course, I could become a preacher in any Christian church I wanted, authorized to carry out baptismal, wedding, and funeral rites. I also had the opportunity, regardless of my age, to turn back the clock twenty-five years using some new macrobiotic remedy. I was offered the unique opportunity, for the modest commission of forty-nine percent, to finally get hold of the money that had been awarded to me by the court, if I had any such claims. I could also satisfy my assumed passion for gambling at any hour of the day or night, playing in some virtual casino guaranteed to be honest. Finally, to top it all off, I was offered at a mere pittance, under the counter, two and a half million verified, active e-addresses to which I could send whatever I wanted as many times as I wanted.
Perhaps the e-mail that started it all would have ended up in the recycle bin, along with the others, if it had not been so brief that I inadvertently read it. Against a black background, devoid of decoration, the first line announced: VIRTUAL LIBRARY in large, yellow letters, while under it the slogan “We have everything!”—written in considerably smaller blue letters—did not exactly assume the aggressive tone typical of this type of message.
Of all the exaggeration I had come across on the Internet, this one took the cake. Really, “everything!” Such a claim would be absurd even for web sites from the largest world libraries. Whoever had come up with this scheme certainly had no notion of how many books have been published in the last five thousand years. No one has ever managed to put such a library together in one place, even without all those works that have disappeared into oblivion.
And then there was that word “virtual.” Used in its truest sense, “virtual” should mean a library composed of electronic books. The Internet has several sites containing such e-editions and I visit them from time to time. But they offer slim pickings. Only several hundred titles are available, just a drop in the ocean compared to “everything” in the literal sense. Who would even dare to hope that this vast multitude could ever be transferred into computer form? And who would ever find it worth the effort?
Although I was convinced this must be a hoax, my curiosity stopped me from proceeding as usual. If it had involved anything other than books, I would have ignored the message without a second thought. But for a writer this was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Instead of deleting the message, I positioned the cursor on the text. The arrow turned into a hand with a raised index finger and I found myself at the Virtual Library site.
The change was barely noticeable. The background stayed black, with two small additions appearing under the name of the site and the slogan. The first was the standard search field: a narrow white rectangular space in which to type the search text. This, however, could not be the title of a work or some other data, since the word “Author” appeared at the beginning. I shook my head. More sophisticated capabilities were to be expected from a library that prided itself on being the “ultimate.” At the very bottom of the screen was a short e-address.
I typed in my own name. This was not out of vanity, although it might have appeared so. I chose myself because, obviously, I am most familiar with my own work. If the Virtual Library truly contained what it claimed in its slogan, then my three books should be no exception. I am certainly not a well-known or popular writer, but I still should be included in a library containing all authors. In such a place there should be no discrimination of any type.
There were two possible outcomes. If the search did not produce the expected result, which was quite likely, then the whole thing was probably a practical joke. Someone had decided to have some fun at the expense of writers, or perhaps publishers, critics, librarians, bookshop owners, and the book world in general. Who knew what kind of trick might be played instead of a page listing my works. But I had no right to complain; no one had forced me to visit the site. A joke would serve me right for not minding my own business.
If, however, my books appeared in electronic form, then the situation was considerably worse. I had not ceded my rights to anyone for such publication, which would mean they were pirated editions. That would really be a problem. The Internet is inundated with this type of abuse, and as far as I have heard, protection from it is just as difficult as protection from unwanted e-messages.
If my work did exist in the Virtual Library, the search would have to last some time. Regardless of increases in computer speed, the gigantic corpus involved could certainly not be searched momentarily. But that is just what happened. As soon as I clicked the mouse to begin the search, a new page appeared on the screen. This time it had a gray background, with black and white writing. A smaller picture also appeared in color, disturbing the uniformity.
At first, I thought that the speed with which it had been found was a sure sign of something fishy. But when I found myself squinting at my own face on the screen, a shudder ran down my spine. That was me, no doubt about it, although I had no idea when and where the picture had been taken. I appeared to be somewhat younger, but it was hard to tell how much younger.
Under the picture, on the left side of the screen, I found a brief biography. All the information was correct, except for the end. Unless something had happened without my noticing it, I was still very much alive. The facts about my death, though, were strangely undefined. The word “died” was followed by nine different years, separated by commas. Unlike the black letters before them, these numbers were white. The closest year was a decade and a half in the future, while the most distant was almost half a century away. Whoever had edited the entry obviously had a morbid sense of humor.