Readers of Aksyonov's major work, The Burn (1984), will be the least disoriented by this early prefiguration: a novel (never published in Russia) about a Siberian thinktank/scientific institute. Ironburg, "Pompeii of the taiga," is remembered by the metafiction-wielding narrator as a magical concatenation of the very best and worst of the Soviet Union's brightest and most desperate minds. Subatomic particles are being smashed in the accelerator, and the prose style--Aksyonov at his jazziest, riff-lest, most sentimental, most elegiac--is similarly hyped-up, relentless, apportioned between multiple flamboyant characters. Ultimately the book is a portrait of a budding technocracy that cannot fully bloom, thanks to the loneliness, absurdity, and sheer unhappy self-destruction of its inherent structure under state auspices. And yet Aksyonov, as much as he centrifuges it all, is called again and again to the nostalgic beauty of the place and the proximity of such talent and brave yet stymied individualism. An unholy, exuberant mess of a book, limited in-joke juvenilia in a sense--but, as always with Aksyonov, joyous shouts of inextinguishable nonconformity.