As the USSR enters its final decade, a group of bored science students in Kiev devise a strategy game in which each 'ruler' competes in Orwellian permanent war. Alerted – by whom? – to the subversive nature and Ukrainian nationalism inherent in the game, the KGB becomes suspicious and pulls them all in for questioning. Though eventually released, they are now marked men whose lives are overrun by wider events – resulting variously in a hellish tour of duty in Afghanistan, incarceration in an asylum and mindless bureaucratic drudgery. As Ukraine negotiates the post-Soviet capitalist free-for-all twenty years later, one of the group, Davidov, aka Istemi, receives an email with a familiar ultimatum attached . .. Brilliantly revealing how a seemingly innocent pursuit can have unforeseen and far-reaching effects, Istemi is a wildly inventive novel exploring the curious banality deep in the heart of a paranoid totalitarian state.