Strugatski, Arkady & Boris

The Strugatski brothers wrote almost everything for which they will be remembered while living in the Soviet Union. This was in itself something of a tragedy, because Soviet SF was not permitted to posit worlds contradictory to the predictive assumptions of the official Marxist-Leninism, and much of their SF was consequently written in code.

The bigger tragedy is that although censorship is now significantly less repressive, there will probably be no more great Strugatski novels.                                                 Arkady died in 1991; and there are rumors only of new work from Boris alone.

Censorship is, of course, a blight, and the Strugatski’s coded language – often described as Aesopian, after the slave who told truths in the form of animal fables – is sometimes hard going for Western readers used to hearing messages shouted loud. But even the laziest reader will find a rambunctious tale like Trudno byt’ bogom (Hard to be a God) impossible to resist.

The later Piknik na obochine (Roadside Picnic), filmed by Anrei Tarkovsky as Stalker, is a subtly scathing fable about the rubbish left on Earth by alien picnickers, whose debris proves highly dangerous to us natives.                                                            “Za milliard let do konsta sveta” (Definitely Maybe) and Ulitka na sklone (The Snail on the Slope) both subversively argue that no form of knowledge can be ultimately secure, not even (by implication) Marxist-Leninist precepts about the course of Progress.

Gadkie lebedi (Children of Rain) has ironic fun with the old SF standby of superchildren raised in secret to rule the world.

Neither censorship nor translation problems can stop the Strugatski’s in the end: they are writers of genius, and they speak to us.


(Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, JC)