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||Arkady Strugatsky (1925-1991); Boris Strugatsky (1933-2012)|
Russian author, who collaborated with his brother Boris
and published acclaimed science fiction novels. The Strugatskys became
best-known Soviet science fiction writers, continuing the Russian
tradition starting from Nikolai Gogol's
novel Chronicles of a City, Vladimir
Mayakovsky's play The Bedbug, and Mikhail Bulgakov's fantasy The
Master and Margarita. Under the official Soviet ideology much of
the Strugatskys' stories were written in code to avoid censorship. In Ulitka
na sklone (The
Snail on the Slope) they argued, that no form of knowledge can be the
ultimate truth, questioning indirectly the validity of Marxist-Leninist
theories of progress. Both brothers had a scientific background.
Arkady Natanovich Strugatsky was born in Batumi, Soviet Georgia. His mother, Alexandra Ivanova, was a teacher. Strugatsky's father, Natan Zenovievich, came from a Jewish family. He kindled Arkady's interest in the works of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Natan Zenovievich was an active member of the Communist party. He died of hunger during the siege of Leningrad in 1942. One of his brothers died in the political purges of 1937.
Boris Natanovich Strugatsky was born in 1933 in Leningrad, where the family had moved in the late 1920s. He was too weak to leave the city during World War II, but he survived with his mother the siege – she died in 1979 at the age of seventy-nine. Strugatsky studied astronomy at Leningrad University. After graduating in 1956 he joined the staff of Pulkov astronomical observatory, situated near Leningrad. In 1957 he married Adelaida Karpeliuk, they had one son. From 1956 to 1964 he worked in Pulkov as a computer mathematician and then began his career as a freelance writer. Boris Strugatsky was a strong critic of the prevailing conditions, even after the fall of the Soviet system. In 2009 he entered into correspondence with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former Yukos CEO. Strugatsky signed an open letter in support for Khodorkovsky along with the writer Boris Akunin, actress Lia Akhedzhakov, actor Oleg Basilashvili, film director Eldar Ryazanov, theatrical director Kama Ginkas and television journalists Vladimir Pozner and Leonid Parfyonov. Joining other Russian intellectuals he urged President Putin to release the punk band Pussy Riot, sentenced to two years in jail over anti-Putin protest at Moscow cathedral. Boris Strugatsky died in St Petersburg on November 19, 2012.
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's first story, the novella Strana bagrovyh tuch
(The Country of Crimson Clouds),
was finished in 1957 (published in 1959), in the same year when the
Sputnik was launched and the Soviet Union took lead in the space race. In
April 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to
travel into space. The brothers insisted that their oeuvre
was "about adventures of the spirit, and not of the body." It was the
combination of Boris's
scientific expertise and Arkady's knowledge of western science fiction
helped make them Russia's most widely translated writers of the genre.
Shest' spichek (1960, Six Matches) collected short stories originally published from 1957 to 1959. The early stories followed the tradition of Ivan Jefremov and praised the achievements of science and technology. During the Cold War, it was taken for granted in the Soviet SF, that in the future the Socialist system will be far ahead of capitalism.
An example of these works is Stazhery (1962, Space Apprentice), written for young adult readers. It contrasted to outposts: Einomisa, where the staff of an undersupplied and overcrowded research station work happily, and Bamberga, an asteroid mining colony run by a an unscrupulous boss named Richardson. Vladimir Yurkovsky, the Inspector-General of the International Administration of Cosmic Communications (IACC), puts Richardson under arrest. In Noon: 22nd Century (1962) the cosmonauts optimistically search unknown frontiers. Capitalism is a thing of the past.
The short story 'Six Matches' called for a limit on risk taking in the name of science. An ingenious scientist suffers a mental breakdown after trying to lift a bundle of matches via telekinesis. "The human race should gain mastery over nature not by sacrificing its best sons but by using powerful machines and precise instruments," concludes one of the characters. The same theme comes up at the end of Space Apprentice, where the heroic Yurkovsky dies while chasing what seems to be an alien satellite.
After the brothers began move gradually to the direction of social satire, they came into conflict with the censors, although they were never dissidents or anti-Soviet. Only for a period during the Brezhnev era, they were unable to publish their work. The Soviet government banned the reprinting of Ulitka na sklone (1966, The Snail on the Slope). Usually the authorities did not object the use of the word Zhid/Yid, a deragotary term for a Jewish person, but when their play "The Yids of the City of Peter," or Joyless Conversation by Candlelight (1990) was performed in the city of Tula, only the words "Joyless Conversation" were allowed on the posters.
In Trudno byt' bogom
(1964, It's Hard to Be a God) a group of historians from the future
where Communism has triumphed
visit a medieval planet in order to observe its historical development.
Anton alias Don Rumata, a historian, witnesses in the city of Arkanar
increasing tension. Don Reba, Minister for Security, accedes more
influence and his pogroms among the members of the intelligentsia
spread terror. Finally Reba comes to power and establishes a tyranny,
beginning a systematic purging of the people. Anton feels he must
contravene the Terran Historical Institute's directive of
non-interference by helping dissidents to escape from Arkanar. 'Can man
be a god?' asks Anton. Can – or should – a god permit evil?
This Dostoyevskian theme brought Arkady and Boris Strugatsky recognition as serious writes. However, taking a critical view on the work of the Stugatskis, the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem argued, that when "this type of literature, which refers only to a very concrete type of totalitarian relations, loses a lot of its social relevance and vitality when the system which it critiques collapses." ('Reflections on Literature, Philosophy, and Science', in A Stanislaw Lem Reader, 1997, p. 22) The brothers wrote the novel when ideological pressure from the Party increased. Originally Don Reba was called Rebia, an anagram of the head of Stalin's secret police. Russian critics have hailed this work as the best utopian novel of Soviet literature.
Vtoroe nashestvie marsian (1968, The Second Invasion from Mars) was a humorous sequel to H.G. Wells's famous novel War of the World. In the story the Martians come back after their defeat but now they have better weapons: bribes and propaganda. Upon seizing power, they start to run the world for their own purposes. "Nowadays, the papers are quite amazing," says the narrator, who is only interested in collecting stamps. "... all the papers have printed the same huge, and entirely meaningless article about the importance of gastric juice." Dalekaia raduga (1963, Far Rainbow) was a story about a catastrophe threatening a whole planet, called Rainbow. The hero, Leonid Gorbovsky, must decide who can leave the planet, a test ground for null-T (teleportation), and who will die. Gorbovsky himself refuses to board his spaceship, Tariel II. However, he reappeared in several subsequent stories.
The Second Invasion from Mars and The Tale of the Troika (1969) caught the eye of conservative reviewers. Especially the brothers satirized bureaucracy – almost a taboo subject. The Ugly Swans, a dystopian story set in an unnamed Western country, did not find a publisher. Eventually it appeared in Germany in 1972 without the permission of the authors. Nevertheless, they were blacklisted. In the story the indolent intelligentsia has lost its role as a critical counterforce and the new generation, children transformed into geniuses, decides to leave the whole old world. Konstantin Lopushansky's film adaptation from 2006, set in a rainy Siberian town, was loosely based on the book. Obitayemyi ostrov (1971) was about a planet governed by a tyranny and the attempts of an young idealistic pilot to change the society.
In Definitely Maybe (1976-77), set in the contemporary Soviet Union, scientists witness strange events, which refer that somebody wants to hinder their work. A theory is developed: the faceless threat from above is the whole world order protecting the Second law of thermodynamics. The protagonist's phone number was Boris Strugatsky's phone number with one digit changed.
Though Soviet authorities promoted the publication of
the brothers' work abroad, they enjoyed the role of
semi-outcasts in the West until the advent of glasnost.
Their first novels published in the USA were The Second War of
the Worlds and Hard To Be a God, both came out in 1973.
Noteworthy, the paperback publication of Snail on the Slope
by Bantam was withdrawn in 1980 when the Strugatskys refused to market
it as a work
of dissident fiction. "Our science fiction is socially and
ideologically commited and humane," said Arkady Strugatski in an
interview in 1983. "It fosters an active mentality, a kind of mentality
that is intolerant of narrow-minded bourgeois attitudes." At the time
when, broadly speaking, the Soviet science fiction was loaded with
Communist optimism, the Strugatskys did not differ from the main
stream. From the mid-1960s they began to examine universal issues of
morality and the tension between ideals and reality.
The brothers also translated novels by Kobo Abe, Hal Clement, Andre Norton and John Wyndham into Russian. After the death of Arkady in 1991, it remained uncertain whether or not Boris would continue writing alone. However, he published two books under the pseudonym S. Vititsky, but then ceased writing fiction. Among their other major works is Roadside Picnic (1972), which was made into a movie by Andrei Tarkovsky under the title Stalker. The script of Stalker had little in common with the novel. Before Tarkovsky began to work on the film himself, he had recommended the novel to his friend, Giorgi Kalatozishvili, thinking he might adapt it to screen.
The original story tells of a mysterious Zone in Canada where enigmatic artifacts can be found, left there like picnic rubbish on an alien stopping place. In the screen version the smuggler-saint Stalker is a guide to two men, the Writer and the Scientist, across a waste land and to the Room, where one's most secret wish will be granted. When the group reach their objective, nobody has the courage to enter the Room. The journey into the Zone can be interpreted as a psychoanalytical process in which Stalker shows the way to the subconscious. "People have often asked me what the Zone is, and what it symbolizes, and have put forward wild conjectures on the subject. I'm reduced to a state of fury and despair by such questions. The Zone doesn't symbolize anything, any more than anything else does in my films: the zone is a zone, it's life, and as he makes his way across it a man may break down or he may come through. Whether he comes through or not depends on his own self-respect, and his capacity to distinguish between what matters and what is merely passing." (Tarkovsky in Sculpting in Time, 1986, p. 200)
In 1981 Tarkovsky worked with Arkady in an another film project, but at that time the director was already planning to go into exile and Arkady was suffering from ill health. Tarkovsky's other science fiction film, Solaris (1971), was based on Stanislaw Lem's novel, which appeared in 1961. His last film, The Sacrifice, was heavily influenced by Ingmar Bergman, and contained a section visualizing World War III.
For further reading: Microworlds, ed. Franz Rottemsteiner (1985); 'Strugatsky, Arkady Natanovich (August 28, 1925-) and Boris Natanovich (April 15, 1933-),' in World Authors 1975-1980, edited by Vineta Colby (1985); Soviet Fiction since Stalin: Science, Politics, and Literature by R.J. Marsh (1986); The Second Marxian Invasion: The Fiction of the Strugatsky Brothers by Stephen W. Potts (1991); Apocalyptic Realism: The Science Fiction of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky by Yvonne Howell (1995); The Contribution of the Brothers Strugatsky to the Genre of Russian Science Fiction by Yulia A. Kulikova (2011); The Human Reimagined: Posthumanism in Russia, edited and introduced by Colleen McQuillen and Julia Vaingurt (2018); 'Arkady and Boris Strugtsky: The Science-Fictionality of Russian Culture' by Yvonne Howell, in Lingua Cosmica: Science Fiction from Around the World, edited by Dale Knickerbocker (2018); '"Unregenerate Mass Nature" in H. G. Wells and the Brothers Strugatsky' by Richard Boyechko, in H.G. Wells and All Things Russian, edited by Galya Diment (2019); Celestial Hellscapes: Cosmology as the Key to the Strugatskiis’ Science Fictions by Kevin Reese (2019)