The Blue Lantern ($22.95; Oct. 30; 160 pp.; 0-8112-1370-6): This first of two volumes offers the selected stories of an abrasive and amusing Russian writer whose novels include The Yellow Arrow and Omon Ra (both trans. 1996) and whose short fiction won the 1993 Russian Booker Prize. Explicit symbolism and frequent surrealism dominate these eight longish tales, which conceal beneath their outlandish premises a high-spirited mockery of bureaucratic folly and also the psychological effects of collectivization. Thus: ``Crystal World,'' set in 1917, shows us Red guards propping themselves up with cocaine, and the contemporary ``Mid-Game'' observes secret-service men turning to sex-change operations in order to pursue more lucrative careers as prostitutes. In ``Hermit and Six-Toes,'' chickens imagine the larger world beyond the confines of their poultry farm, and the haunting title story turns ghost stories traded by children at a military training camp into the troubling conviction that ``everybody's dead.'' Expert stories from a master in the making.