Joe Gross, books editor at the Austin American Statesman, reports on Daniel Kalder's appearance at the Texas Book Festival in Austin this weekend: " In his 2009 book, Strange Telescopes: Following the Apocalypse from Moscow to Siberia, Daniel Kalder hung around with a Russian fellow who declared himself the Messiah and had the followers to prove it, a Russian guy with a surreal English accent who performed underground exorcisms and a guy who knows so much about the tunnels under Moscow that he consults with special forces. Kalder described this last guy as “completely barking mad” more so even that dude who said he was the Christ.
And yes, when Kalder talked about it Sunday at the Texas Book Festival, he absolutely made it sound as cool as it reads on the page. The Scottish-born, Austin-residing writer has knocked out a couple of books about the ten years he spent in Russia at the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st. When asked what set him on his quest, Kalder said growing up in an “astonishingly boring small town” in Scotland, it seemed like Russia was an ideal spot with a lot to do and a lot to learn. “It was like a parallel universe,” Kalder said. “with all these different groups and ethnicities entombed inside this old empire.” Much of the 50-minute hour was taken up with discussions of Vissarion, a former cab driver who, many years ago, had revelation that he was the son of God and started preaching in front a St .Basil’s. Noting the country’s religious traditions, Kalder said that “Russia was chockablock with Christs around this time.A lot faded, he grew.” Kalder visited Vissarion at his compound in remote Serbia, determined not to write the same old cult story. “I found a lot of highly intelligent, highly educated followers,” he said, including former rocket scientists and astrophysicists. “A lot of these people had been dissidents (under Soviet Communism), rock musicians,” Kalder said. “But Vissarion had built this perfect totalitarian system and these dissidents embraced totalitarianism in a new form.” By the way, you want to start a cult, Russia’s not a bad place. “(Russia is so big, if God starts talking to you, you can seal yourself off and construct an alternative world,” Kalder said.
When someone asked about a common thread among the converted, Kalder said the conversions stories sounded like any other: “The same as people you know who converted to Christianity or Communism; they were dissatisfied with reality to a certain degree, but who isn’t? I am, that’s why I did this,” he said, gesturing to the book."