Mark Mellon's story "The Favor," an excerpt from his World War II novel-in-progress Hammer and Skull, appears in the e-zine Behold. We got a soiled glimpse of the Russian side of World War II in the movie Enemy at the Gates, a moral black hole where commanders shoot their own troops if they don't advance and everyone's spying on everyone. My favorite parts of Hammer and Skull are set in this human wasteland. Mellon learned Russian in the U. S. Army and he's done quite a bit of research to transport the reader convincingly to a time and place most of us know very little about. From popular culture we have a good sense of how the war played out in the West, but no Red Army equivalent of Hogan's Heroes.
It should be mentioned, sadly, that the novel is appealing not so much because it allows us to feel smug about ourselves vis a vis the former Soviet Union, but because it mirrors our own increasingly callous society in the era of Enron, a bought Congress, and endless proxy wars. How does a person armed only with an internal moral compass navigate this wilderness of sleaze and heartlessness? Answer: look to ordinary Russians; they've been living under such conditions for quite a while.