Nine fresh, vivid, inviting ""soft"" sf/fantasy tales in the inimitable Russian manner, from the author of Half a Life. The title piece, an eight-part cycle, features the sleepy, picturesque Russian town of Great Gusliar, whose delightful inhabitants--especially Kornely Udalov, director of the construction office--brim with wry, innocent wisdom. Udalov meets some worried, three-legged aliens outside town, who apologize for crashing their spaceship; an alien appears in a dream, promising Udalov a great gift--the use of which will determine whether Earth will be invited to join galactic civilization; another alien asks Udalov's help to obtain a certain flower that will save the galaxy--but when Udalov cajoles the widow in whose window-box the flower reposes, he gets whacked with a rolling-pin for his trouble. Among the other tales: a mad entomologist scrambles through a gigantic turnip in search of butterfly cocoons; a young man's telekinetic power enables him to break free of his overbearing mother; and a researcher's revelatory appreciation of the beauties of early morning spur him to resign his undignified, vivisectionist job. Light, warm, delectable morsels.