Time to get slaughtered! The Arkanar Massacre is here

Film lovers… Strugatskiis fans… Russian science fiction watchers… your moment has (almost) arrived. Fifteen years in the making, the long-awaited magnum opus of the great Russian director Aleksei German Senior, who sadly passed away on Feb 21st of this year, is about to premiere at the Rome Film Festival next week (Nov 8th – 17th). It’s Hard To Be A God (which had the working title of The Arkanar Massacre) is black and white and 170 minutes long. This, his final film, co-authored with his wife Svetlana Karmelita, is based on the well-loved science fiction novel It’s Hard To Be A God (Трудно быть богом, 1964) by Arkadii and Boris Strugatskii (see previous blog post for Boris Strugatskii’s obituary). A prior screen version of the novel made in East Germany, Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein (dir. Peter Fleischmann, 1989) is available on YouTube (purportedly with English subtitles).

It’s been a sad year for Russian science fiction, with the deaths of the great director German and the much-respected author Boris Strugatskii following close on each other. Let’s hope we will soon have the opportunity to watch It’s Hard To Be A God on screens closer to home.

Here’s a useful site with links to other pages; and for Russian speakers, here’s a link to Ksenia Chudinova’s review in Snob magazine. Her review is ironically titled ‘It’s hard to be a viewer’. She writes that although the cream of Russian intellectual circles was present at the pre-premiere screening in Russia in April (when the film was not yet fully sound-edited), many exited the auditorium mid-film, loudly banging doors. She writes: ‘Meanwhile, on screen an ambitious and primarily physiological bacchanal unwound: close-ups of mud, animal and human excrement, blood, guts, a donkey’s penis, a woman’s vagina, crumpled clothing, horses, dirty fingernails, animal corpses. The characters are constantly defecating, spitting, scratching themselves, beating each other, cutting stomachs and throats, copulating or killing each other. Without speaking’.

Mikhail Khodorkovskii’s PA Kulle Pispanen, who also saw this first public screening, described it as ‘not a simple film, and definitely a bit of a downer’ – my free translation of ‘непростое зрелище, и совсем не деньрожденьческое‘. She described Aleksei German Jr, the director’s son, who contributed to the final edits, as ‘crushed’ (‘раздавлен’) by the audience’s response. Still, all the best productions get terrible audiences on their first night. Take The Inspector GeneralThe Seagull… The Playboy of the Western World!

Here’s a kinder review by Boris Akunin, writing as Grigorii Chkhartishvili, also for Snob: he is more sympathetic to German’s unusual sound and visual effects, interpreting the film’s medieval chaos as a parable for modern societal dysfunction.



Far Rainbows one-day workshop


Cosmonaut training centre, from Mechte navstrechu (1963)

A reminder from the organizers that the Far Rainbows one-day workshop on Russian and Eastern European science fiction cinema will take place at Wadham College, Oxford, this Friday 12 April. There will be a truly international line-up, including presenters from the USA, Germany, Estonia, and Sweden. Most but not all of the papers focus on adaptations for cinema of the Strugatskii brothers’ novels –  ranging from Tarkovskii’s paradigm-changing Stalker to niche classics such as the German-language production of Hard to be a God (Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein, 1990) and the


The Centaurians lift off, from Mechte navstrechu

short film Mechte navstrechu (Towards the Dream, 1963) by Ukrainian writer and scenarist Oles’ Berdnyk. (Ecven the conference title is derived from a 1963 novella by the Strugatskiis, Dalekaia raduga (Far Rainbow), which has not yet been filmed – to my knowledge. Our keynote speaker Professor Yvonne Howell (Richmond), a world authority on the Strugatskiis, will give a talk on new interpretations of Stalker. Please contact the organisers at farrainbows@gmail.com for more information. See below for a full programme of events.


Scene from the German production of Hard to be a God (1990)

A film studies workshop focusing on the legacy of Arkadii and Boris Strugatskii
All workshop events except the film screening and lunch take place in the New Seminar Room, Wadham
11 April, 4pm

  • Screening (in Russian) of The Dead Mountaineer Hotel (Otel “U Pogibshego Al’pinista”), dir. Grigorii Kromanov, 1979 (Room 3 of the Taylorian Institute, Oxford)

12 April
 9am: Opening remarks

  •  Lars Kristensen (Skövde, Sweden), Russians in Space: Ideological Problems for Red Sci-fi Cinema
  •  Tom Rowley (Cambridge), Adapting Oles’ Berdnyk: Cold War Analogy in the Early 1960s
  •  Maria Engström (Dalarna, Sweden), The Scent of a Former Life: The Czech Adaptation of the Strugatskiis’ story Malysh

 10.45am: Coffee
 11.15am-12.45pm NOT ONLY “STALKER”: Adaptations of Other Strugatskiis’ Novels (CHAIR: YVONNE HOWELL)

  •  Sofya Khagi (Michigan), Genre Film, Spectacle, and the Strugatskii Brothers in Fyodor Bondarchuk’s Inhabited Island
  •  Matthias Schwartz (Freie Universität Berlin), Visualising the Imperial Gaze: On Peter Fleischmann’s Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein
  •  Andrei Rogatchevski (Glasgow), Obscuring the Message: A Billion Years before the End of the World vs Days of Eclipse

 1pm: Lunch in the Trapp Room, Wadham

  •  Henriette Cederlöf (Södertörn, Sweden): Soviet Noir: Kromanov’s Dead Mountaineer Hotel)
  •  Eva Näripea (Estonian Academy of Arts) : Queering Gender in Dead Mountaineer Hotel: Intertextual Considerations of the Novel and the Film)

 3.30pm: Coffee
 What Are We Stalking? A Cognitive Approach to Tarkovskii’s Film Adaptation of the Strugatskiis’ Roadside Picnic
 5pm: General discussion and concluding remarks

The workshop organisers are Muireann Maguire and Andrei Rogatchevski. Please contact them with any queries at farrainbows@gmail.com

Slavic Science Fiction via Bristol/Angola/Mali

Visiting the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol recently, I was intrigued to discover Superpower, an exhibition devoted to African science fiction (and there is more to the latter than District 9, although Neill Blomkamp, who directed that particular gem, was doubly represented by two micro-films playing on loop). The exhibition promised, to my companion‘s unceasing admiration, to ‘be reflexive of the ever-ubiquitous exhibition format of the regional or national showcase, foregrounding modes of representation rather than considering the artist as a regional representative’. That said, it was reassuring to discover that Slavic influences are also ever-ubiquitous. The wonderfully innovative Polish artist Paweł Althamer, who has previously taken this installation to Oxford, Brussels, and Brazil, is pictured exploring Mali with a small crew of faux-extraterrestrials from the Warsaw suburb of Bródno, all wearing Elvis-style gold lamé space suits. To quote the exhibition catalogue, Althamer and his companions travel the world ‘to create an alien encounter with new people and places. […] One of the classic allegories of science fiction – that of aliens invading the Western world who symbolize a fear of the ‘Other’ – is reversed, in this instance also playing with the oft-fabled beliefs of the Dogon in the extra-terrestrial’. In an interesting Fedorovian aside, Althamer called his travelling installation the ‘Common Task’ (Polish ‘Wspólna sprawa’; contrast Nikolai Fedorov’s ‘общее дело’). Althamer’s aesthetic and moral convictions, however, relate more to international fraternity than intergalactic resurrection. (You can watch an interview with the artist here.)


A second Slavic-themed installation was a series of photographs by Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda, ostensibly logging a sun-landing exhibition called Icarus 13. Launched from and ultimately landed in Luanda, Angola with ‘a flight crew… composed of two astronauts and two beautiful air stewards, trained for one year before the launch in the desert of Namibia’, the diamond-and-steel, solar-powered craft sets off to gather samples from the surface of the sun. The tongue-in-cheek, mordantly detailed captions describe an impossibly utopian project that may remind readers of Engineer Los’s voyage to Mars in Aelita or the brief parabola of the Integral in Zamiatin’s We. To return to the catalogue: ‘Kia Henda’s project also suggests the melancholy in these monumental remains of a collective intervention into the future – the promise of a better world that Soviet states and post-colonial African nations shared, burned up like Icarus on a flightpath to the sun’.



Remember that Snail on the Slope always welcomes new ideas for blog posts, or guest blog posts on all relevant topics!

Russian Studies in Literature – Strugatskiis special issue

I’d like to publicize this special issue of Russian Studies in Literature, for those of you with an institutional or personal subscription. Table of contents below:

Volume 47 Number 4 / Fall 2011

This issue contains:
The Strugatsky Brothers and Russian Science Fiction: Editor’s
p. 3
John Givens

The Lessons of the Strugatskys
p. 7
Viacheslav Ivanov

The Meaning of (Private) Life, or Why Do We Read the Strugatskys?
p. 31
Irina Kaspe

A Selective Similarity: Dostoevsky in the Worlds of the Strugatsky
p. 67
Mark Amusin

Russian Science Fiction: A Crisis of Concepts
p. 84
Sergei Sirotin

Clearly a must-read for Strugatskiis fans!

promotion, and a bit of self-promotion

I want to shout out to everyone who visits this blog about Nikolai Krementsov’s new book, A MARTIAN STRANDED ON EARTH: ALEXANDER BOGDANOV, BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS, AND PROLETARIAN SCIENCE (U Chicago Press, 2011). It’s not just for scholars and readers of science fiction, but for anyone interested in Russian and Soviet history and culture. Perhaps someone could post a review on this site? (Perhaps I will when I get a bit more time…)

Reposting (from SEELANGS) a list of SF sources that Kevin Reese just posted there in response to a question from a list member:


1. Geller, Leonid. Vselennaia za predelom dogmy: razmyshleniia o sovetskoi fantastike.
London: Overseas Publications Interchange Ltd, 1985.

2. Gakov, Vladimir, et al. Entsiklopediia fantastiki: kto est’ kto. Minsk: Galaksias,

3. Prashkevich, Gennadii. Krasnyi sfinks: istoriia russkoi fantastiki ot V. F. Odoevskogo do Borisa Shterna. Novosibirsk: Svinin i synov’ia, 2007.

The best fit is Geller: his work is a proper historical-literary study, with some references to translated works. Gakov’s book is really just a reference work, but with many entries on non-Russian writers. (Gakov reads English well, so an entry on an English-language sf writer does not imply the existence of a translation.)

Stite’s _Revolutionary Dreams_, while not a study of science fiction, contains many references to early Soviet sf writers.

Finally, as concerns influential non-Russian sf writers, there is an extremely detailed bibliography of translations of H. G. Wells into Russian. Many of the translations from the 1920s were edited by Zamiatin, who wrote some very fine essays on Wells:

Levidova, I. M. and B. M. Parchevskaia. Gerbert Dzhorzh Uells: Bibliografiia russkikh perevodov i kriticheskoi literatury na russkom iazyke: 1898-1965.
Moskva: Kniga, 1966.


And I’ll finish with a bit of self-promotion: A monumental (990 pp.) book for teaching about science fiction, SENSE OF WONDER: A CENTURY OF SCIENCE FICTION (ed. by Leigh Ronald Grossman, Wildside Press, 2011), includes a new translation of two chapters of Zamyatin’s WE by a recent Swarthmore graduate, Alex Israel, and my brief survey article on Russian and East European Science Fiction (both included in pp. 106-09).

Best wishes to everyone!


Russian and EE SF course blog

This is Sibelan posting as Odoevsky (that transmigrating soul) since we haven’t figured out how to add multiple authors.

I want to encourage everyone to visit the blog for my course (spring 2011), Russian and East European Science Fiction:



Everyone in the class would be delighted to hear from anyone who knows anything about the field!


Thanks and hoping to see your digital traces there –