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by Bamber Gascoigne

Arkady Strugatsky (1925-1991); Boris Strugatsky (1933-2012)


Russian author, who collaborated with his brother Boris Strugatsky 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.

Arkady Strugatsky served in the Soviet army in 1943-55, becoming a senior lieutenant. In 1955 he married Elena Oshanina; they had one stepdaughter. Strugatsky studied English and Japanese at the Military Institute for Foreign Languages, and worked as a technical translator and editor for Institute for Technical Information, Goslitizdat (1959-61). He was an editor of Detgiz in 1961-64 and then worked as a freelance writer and translator from English and Japanese from 1964. Arkady Strugatsky died on October 23, 1991.
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)

Selected works:

  • Strana bagrovyh tuch, 1959 [The Country of Crimson Clouds]
  • Shest' spichek, 1960
    - 'Six Matches'  (in World Omnibus of Science Fiction, ed. Brian Aldiss and Sam Lundwall, 1986)
  • Stazhery, 1962
    - Space Apprentice (translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1981)
  • Vozvraschenie, 1962
    - Noon: 22nd Century (translated by Patrick L. McGuire, 1978)
  • Popytka k begstvu, 1962
    - Escape Attempt (translated by Roger DeGaris, 1982)
    - Poika Helvetistä: kaksi pienoisromaania (suom. Esa Adrian, 1986)
  • Dalekaia raduga, 1963
    - Far Rainbow (translators: A. G. Myers, 1967; Antonina W. Bouis and Gary Kern, 1979)
  • Trudno byt' bogom, 1964
    - Hard to Be a God (translated by Wendayne Ackerman, 1973; Olena Bormashenko, 2014)
    - Hankala olla jumala (suom. Marja Koskinen, 1979)
    -  Films: Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein, 1990, prod. B.A. Produktion, Garance, Hallelujah Films, dir.  Peter Fleischmann, starring Edward Zentara, Aleksandr Filippenko, Hugues Quester, Anne Gautier; Trudno byt bogom, 2013, dir. by Aleksei German, screenplay by Aleksei German, Svetlana Karmalita, starring Leonid Yarmolnik, Laura Lauri, Yuri Tsurilo, Oleg Botin
  • Khischnye veschi veka, 1965
    - The Final Circle of Paradise (translated by Leonid Renen, 1976)
  • Ponedel'nik nachinaetsia v subbotu, 1965 
    - Monday Begins on Saturday (translated by Leonid Renen, 1977) / Monday Starts on Saturday (translated by Andrew Bromfield; illustrations by Yevgeniy Migunov, 2017)
    - TV film: Charodei, 1982, prod. Gosteleradio, Odessa Film Studios, dir. by Konstantin Bromberg, screenplay by Arkady Strugatsky, starring Aleksandra Yakovleva-Aasmyae, Aleksandr Abdulov, Yekaterina Vasilyeva, Valentin Gaft
  • Ulitka na sklone, 1966
    - The Snail on the Slope (translated by Alan Meyers, 1980) / The Snail on the Slope (translated by Olena Bormashenko, 2018) / The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: (One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre) (translated by Josh Billings; introduction by Jeff Vandermeer, 2015; original title: Otelʹ "U pogibshego alʹpinista") 
  • Gadkie lebedi, 1966-67, 1972
    - The Ugly Swans (translated by Alice Stone Nakhimovsky and Aleksander Nakhimovsky, 1979
    - Film: Gadkie lebedi, 2006, prod. Pro Line, Catherine Dussart Productions (CDP), Federalnoe Agentstvo po Kulture i Kinematografii, dir.  Konstantin Lopushansky, starring Gregory Hlady, Leonid Mozgovoy, Aleksei Kortnev, Rimma Sarkisyan
  • Vtoroe nashestvie marsian, 1968
    -  The Second Martian Invasion (edited by C.G. Bearne, 1970) / The Second War of the Worlds (tr. 1973) / The Second Invasion from Mars (translated by Gary Kern, 1979)
  • Skazka o troike, 1969
    - Roadside Picnic & The Tale of the Troika (translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1977)
    - Tarina troikasta: kuunnelma (suom. Nina Korimo, Ben Hellman, 1983)
  • Otel "U pogibshego alpinista", 1970
    - The Dead Mountaineer's Inn: (One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre) (translated by Josh Billings; introduction by Jeff Vandermeer, 2015)
    Film: 'Hukkunud Alpinisti' hotell / The Dead Mountaineer Hotel, 1979, prod. Tallinnfilm, dir.  Grigori Kromanov,  screenplay by Arkady and Boris Strugatski, starring Uldis Putsitis, Juri Järvet, Lembit Peterson
  • Malysh, 1971
    - Space Mowgli  (in Escape Attempt, translated by Roger DeGaris, 1982)
    - Kasvatti (suom. Esa Adrian, 1992)
  • Obitayemyi ostrov, 1971
    - Prisoners of Power (translated by Helen Saltz Jacobson, 1977) / The Inhabited Island (translated by Andrew Bromfield, 2020)
    Film: Obitaemyy ostrov, 2008, prod. Art Pictures Studio, CTC Channel, Non-Stop Productions, dir.  Fyodor Bondarchuk, starring Vasiliy Stepanov, Yuliya Snigir and Pyotr Fyodorov
  •  Piknik na obotshine, 1972
    - Roadside Picnick (translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1977) / Roadside Picnic (translated by Olena Bormashenko, 2012)
    - Stalker: huviretki tienpientareelle (suom. Esa Adrian, 1982)
    - Film 1979, dir.  Andrei Tarkovsky, screenplay by Arkadi & Boris Strugatsky, starring Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, Alisa Friendlich, Anatoli Solonitsyn, Nikolai Grinko
  • Paren iz preispodnei, 1974
    - The Kid From Hell (in Escape Attempt, translated by Roger DeGaris, 1982)
    - Poika Helvetistä: kaksi pienoisromaania (suom. Esa Adrian)
  • Ekspeditsiia v preispodniuiu, 1974 [Expedition into Inferno], (A. Strugastski, as S. Yaroslavtsev)
  • Za milliard let do kontsa sveta, 1976-77
    - Definitely Maybe: A Manuscript Discovered under Unusual Circumstances (translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1978)
    - Miljardi vuotta ennen maailmanloppua (suom. Esa Adrian, 1981)
    - Films: Egymilliárd évvel a világ vége elött, 1983, dir. László Félix, prod. Magyar Televízió Müvelödési Föszerkesztöség (MTV); Dni zatmeniya / The Days of Eclipse, 1989, prod. Lenfilm Studio, Studio Troitskij Most, dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, screenplay Yuri Arabov, Pyotr Kadochnikov, Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy, starring Aleksei Ananishnov, Eskender Umarov, Irina Sokolova, Vladimir Zamansky; Prin to telos tou kosmou, 1996, prod. Greek Film Center, Greek Television ET-1, Hyperion, dir. Panagiotis Maroulis, starring Aris Lebessopoulos, Christos Kalavrouzos and Olia Lazaridou 
  • Zhuk v muraveinike, 1979-80
    - Beetle in the Anthill (translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1980)
  • Aliens, Travelers, and Other Strangers, 1984 (translated by Roger DeGaris)
  • Podrobnosti zhizni Nikity Vorontsova, 1984  [The Details of Nikita Vorontsov's Life] (A. Strugastski, as S. Yaroslavtsev)
  • Volney gasiat veter, 1985
    - The Time Wanderers (translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1986)
  • Pisma Myortvogo Cheloveka, 1986 (screenplay)
    Film: ( Dead Man's Letters) 1986, prod Lenfilm, dir.  Konstantin Lopushansky, screenplay by Konstantin Lopushansky, Vyacheslav Rybakov, Boris Strugatsky, starring Rolan Bykov, Iosif Ryklin, Viktor Mikhaylov, Nora Gryakalova, Aleksandr Sabinin
  • Grad obrechennyi, 1989
    - The Doomed City (translated by Andrew Bromfield, 2016)
  • Khromaia sudba, 1989
    - Lame Fate; Ugly Swans (a new translation by Maya Vinokour, 2020)
  • Bednye zlye liudi, 1989
  • Otiagoshchennye zlom ili Sorok let spustia, 1989
  • Zhidy goroda Pitera, ili Neveselye besedy pri svechakh, 1990 ["The Yids of the City of Peter," or Joyless Conversation by Candlelight]
  • Iskushenie B., 1990 (screenplay)
     Film 1990, prod. Goskino, Laterna Film, dir.  Arkadi Sirenko, screenplay by Arkadi Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, starring Lembit Ulfsak, Oleg Borisov, Natalya Gundareva, Vladimir Zeldin
  • Kuda zh nam plyt'?, 1991
  • D'iavol sredi liudei, 1991 [Devil Amongst People] (A. Strugastski, as S. Yaroslavtsev)
  • Poisk prednaznacheniia, ili Dvadtsat' sed'maia teorema etiki, 1994 [Search for Designation or Twenty Seventh Theorem of Ethics],  (A. Strugastski, as S. Vitisky)
  • Sochineniia, 1996 ( vols.)
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 10. S. Vititskii, S. Iaroslavtsev, 2001
  • Bessil'nyje mira sego, 2003  [The Powerless of This World], (A. Strugastski, as S. Vitisky)
  • Sobranie sochinenii v odinnadtsati tomakh, 2003
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 4. 1964-1966 gg, 2007
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 9. 1985-1990 gg, 2007
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 11. Neopublikovannoe, 2007
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 1. 1955-1959, 2009  
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 2. 1960-1962, 2009
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 3. 1961-1963, 2009
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 5. 1967-1968, 2009
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 6. 1969-1973, 2009  
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 7. 1973-1978, 2009
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 11 tomakh. Tom 8. 1979-1984, 2009
  • Neizvestnye Strugatskie. Pisma. Rabochie dnevniki, 1963 - 1966 gg, 2009 (ed. S.P. Bondanrenko)

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