New publications on Russian science fiction

Regular readers will be delighted to learn of two new (both 2014) publications in the field of Russian science fiction studies. kremThe first is Nikolai Krementsov’s long-awaited survey of the interaction between early Soviet science and fiction, Revolutionary Experiments: The Quest for Immortality in Bolshevik Science and Fiction. See full details and order a copy from the publisher’s website, here. The cover illustration looks as if it may owe some inspiration to this blog’s home image!

matthiasThe second book is equally long-awaited and fascinating (although unfortunately, for now, available only in German): Matthias Schwartz’s Expeditions into Other Worlds: Soviet Adventure Literature and Science Fiction from the October Revolution to the End of the Stalin Era. Here is the publisher’s blurb in English translation:

Adventure literature and science fiction were among the most popular literary genres in the Soviet Union. It was within these genres that collective desires and fears about the present could be projected onto distant and exotic worlds. At the same time, this “literature of the masses” was very controversial. Adventure literature was regarded as ideologically problematic colonial literature, while science fiction was seen as challenging the official optimism about science and the future. This volume is the first to take an in-depth look at this neglected field of popular literature. The author reconstructs the journalistic and internal debates around the genres’ creation and presents a selection of texts that reveal the changing poetics within this field. He thereby provides fundamental insights into the operation and aporias of Soviet cultural policy. You can order a copy here.

Matthias Schwartz is a scholar of Slavic studies and a historian. He is currently a researcher at the Centre for Literary and Cultural Research (ZfL), Berlin. Nikolai Krementsov is a professor in the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto.



The new Strugatskii Brothers biography reviewed

Guest post by Kevin Reese

This is a “halfway mark” review of the recently published biography of the Strugatskii brothers by Dmitrii Volodikhin and Gennadii Prashkevich, part of the long-standing Zhizn’ zamechatel’nykh liudei series.  I purchased the book in December, but the publication date reads 2012.  For a few weeks, then, I was literally reading a book from the future.

I was about halfway done with the book when the semester started, and teaching obligations have prevented me from getting back to reading it properly.  This being said, I think that I have processed more than enough of the book to get a sense for its structure.

Before the semester began, I had gotten up to the section devoted to Ulitka na sklone.  It follows that the portion I have read deals with the early and middle periods of the Strugatskiis’ career, before an inability to get their works published became the norm.  In a note at the beginning of the book, Volodikhin and Prashkevich talk about the joy of coming across one of the Strugatskiis’ books during this later period:

“Но каким наслаждением было когда-то наткнуться в провинциальном лавке в Сибири, в Заполярье, на Дальнем Востоке на чудом попавшую книжку братьев Стругацких.  Что там, под переплетом?  Что нового они придумали?  Книжки в этих лавках часто лежали на одной полке с консервами, с сахаром, с чаем, с обычным макаронами.  А значит — были так же нужны, как эти продукты.” But what a pleasure it was at one time, in provincial store in Siberia, in the Arctic Circle, in the Far East, to stumble upon a Strugatskii book that had ended up there by some miracle.  What was there, beneath the cover?  What new thing had they thought up?  Books in these stores often stood the same shelf with preserves, with sugar, with tea, and with ordinary macaroni.  This means that they were just as necessary as these food products. (6)

The passage contains much of what is good and bad about this biography: while the authors bring to their task the passion of having grown up reading the Strugatskiis, their tendency to drift into writing a personal history of having been readers and contemporaries of the Strugatskiis is frequently indulged.  (The earlier Skalandis biography (2008) suffers from this tendency to an even greater degree.)

Another undercurrent of the book is analysis and interpretation of the Strugatskiis’ works, which are examined in chronological order.  As a reader, I would like to know as much about the Strugatskiis’ lives as possible, and it often seems that the authors are cutting the biographical sections short in order to insert their own literary opinions.  For example, their analysis of the various meanings contained in Ulitka na sklone covers pages 138-69, far too long, in my opinion, a departure from biography.

Despite a high incidence of digressions, though, the books is worth reading, and should be read by anyone with a strong interest in the Strugatskiis.  There is a great deal of interesting information about the circumstances surrounding the publication of each work.  To cite one very small example, there is an account of how Arkadii Natanovich was called to the office of Znanie—Sila just prior to the publication of “Spontannyi refleks” to correct an ending that the editors did not like.  There was a rush on the story because it was being sent to America as part of a sf exchange.  (It appeared in the May 1959 issue of Amazing Stories in a fairly poor translation.)  They decided to simply truncate the story, and the original ending appears to have been discarded.

There is a great deal of interesting material in terms of pure biography.  The family’s experience of the Blockade is given in more detail than I have seen elsewhere, as is the history of AN’s time in the military and the failure of his first marriage.  There are numerous excerpts from the correspondence between BN and Prashkevich.  One letter from BN is essentially a paean to stamp collecting, and the passion of his writing partially explains why this hobby has made more than one appearance in the Strugatskiis’ works, most notably in Vtoroe nashestvie marsian. Given that the Strugatskii would become science fiction writers, the space given to their respective interests in astronomy is of particular interest.  It is well known that BN did graduate work in astronomy and worked for many years at the Pulkovo observatory.  The materials gathered in this book make it clear that AN had a lifelong interest in the subject.  They include an excerpt from AN’s journal from 25 December 1941, in which he mentions the Blockade bread rations, and then immediately lays out his study plans in mathematics, and theoretical and spherical astronomy, naming the textbooks he will be using.

The book contains many pictures, many of which will be familiar to readers of the Skalandis biography, as well as those who have perused volume 11 of the 2000-2003 Stalker edition of the Strugatskiis’ collected works.

Kevin Reese, UNC Chapel Hill

Another look at Metro 2033

With reference to our recent piece on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s online (later print) sci-fi novel, Metro 2033, here’s a link to a review of the same book by Russian Dinosaur. I’m not yet entirely convinced I need to read the sequel, Metro 2034, which can also be accessed online here.

There’s a brief but useful bio and bibliography (plus a moody photo) of Glukhovsky himself on the Academica Rossica website.


That Martian Stranded On Earth

A quick mention that two reviews of Toronto-based scholar Nikolai Krementsov’s fascinating biography of Aleksandr Bogdanov, A Martian Stranded On Earth: Alexander Bogdanov, Blood Transfusions, and Proletarian Science (University of Chicago Press, 2011) have now appeared in the UK press.’This slim volume is an example of genuinely interdisciplinary, readable, erudite science history,’ says Yvonne Howell, writing in the THE, on 29 September 2011. (Read more here). In the TLS (January 13, 2012), Muireann Maguire claims that Krementsov’s book is the first study ‘to place Bogdanov’s three personae – literary, personal, and scientific – vividly and accurately in context. If Bogdanov was martyred, he willingly sacrificed himself to the naive hubris of Soviet utopian science’. Read more here – if you can navigate the paywall.

If you’d like to re-post something on this blog, or to submit your a review of your own, please contact the editors.

Monday Starts on Saturday…

… which means New Year’s Day must start on Christmas Eve! This recent review of Andrew Bromfield’s 2005 translation of the Strugatskiis’ Ponedel’nik nachinaetsia v subbotu (1964) as Monday Starts on Saturday, by blogger Russian Dinosaur, might interest Slavonic sci-fi blog readers. Monday is quite the Yuletide classic; not only does the book feature one of the most remarkable New Year’s Eve scenes in literature (when all the research magicians determinedly return to their labs before midnight, despite the efforts by the demons on the door and the rookie caretaker to send them home), it was filmed in 1982 by Konstantin Bromberg as Charodei, a romantic comedy set in a similar institute, NUINU (in Russian, ну и ну, or, now then) – the Universal Scientific Institute of Irregular Services (Научный универсальный институт необыкновенных услуг). Charodei is now prescribed watching for New Year’s Eve, if you can resist the gravitational pull of Ironiia sud’by (The Irony of Fate, another epochal Russian seasonal romance). Happy reading/watching….