Strange Telescopes is a work that challenges simple description. Daniel Calder takes the reader from Russia to Siberia, in search of individuals who have found unique ways of rejecting our reality and substituting their own. We’re introduced to one man who prefers life underground to above it, and another who believes so fervently in the reality of demonic possession that he makes a life of traveling around to witness and record exorcisms. The journey continues with a trip to a religious settlement in the Siberian wilderness, complete with its own personal Messiah. And finally, we’re given a glimpse at the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper, and the shadowy figure that created it.
The entire story is in a sense a very personal one. The author did not set out with the intention of writing the book that would become Strange Telescopes, but found himself sucked into this series of odd little worlds largely by chance. The experience is lived through Calder, his actions and observations center stage throughout. It’s a bit crude, occasionally dark, consistently irreverent, and also thoroughly amusing. Calder makes for an ideal tour guide, richly illustrating the people and places which at times feel so alien despite being completely earthly. There’s little in the way of a conclusion, but the colorful characters make for a tale that’s as engaging as it is bizarre.
Strange Telescopes has a style that won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who appreciate the stranger side of humanity, it’s a ride worth taking.