Design for the Aeroflot headquarters, 1934

- from Unrealised Moscow

Science Fiction

Red Plenty is very science-fictional in its form and its methods.  I learned a lot from non-Soviet SF about how to represent the pleated and knotted fabric of a society alien to the reader - and one book in particular, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars trilogy, directly influenced the shape of Red Plenty with its switching points of view and its italicised inter-chapters.  Soviet SF was most use to me as a source for moods and voices.  In the USSR writers of science fiction had the future as a semi-official responsibility.  Whatever they invented, they were expected to endorse the radiance to come.  But since the future, in Soviet SF as in every other kind, is a refraction of the present anyway, the scope was large for sly commentary on the present, and deniable ironisation of it on terms far freer than in realist Soviet literature, especially when the SF was being written by the brilliantly self-possessed Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.  Here you’ll find scraps from the Strugatskys.  I nearly used an epigraph from their Monday Begins on Saturday: ‘Everything was as before, except for... the wild and senseless footprints on the ceiling.’

Arkady (l) and Boris Strugatsky viewing the future

Charles Eames testing a mock-up of

the multi-screen filmshow for the

Amerian exhibition in Moscow on 9-inch

cardboard Russians. 

Glory to Soviet Science!


from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard to Be a God (1964)

    “Every day Father copies written confessions,” she continued, with quiet desperation in her voice, “and the papers he copies from are stained with blood.  He gets them in the Tower of Joy. Oh, why did you ever teach me to read?  Every evening, every night, he copies these reports from the hearings - and he drinks. It’s so horrible, so horrible!  ...And my brother comes home from patrol service reeking of beer, dried blood on his hands... ‘We are exterminating all of them,’ he says,  ‘down to the twelfth generation.’  He won’t leave Father alone, he keeps asking him why he can read and write... Today, he says he and his friends dragged a man into our house... They beat him until they were splashed all over with blood.  Then he finally stopped screaming. - I can’t go on like this, I won’t go back any more, I’d rather die...”

    Rumata stood beside her, his hand softly caressing her hair.  Her dry, shining eyes were fixed on a far-away point.  What could he say to her?  He swooped her up in his arms, carried her to the divan, sat down next to her and began to speak.  He told her of crystal temples, of gay gardens stretching for many miles - without filth, or swarms of flies and gnats, or garbage.  He spoke of the table that serves dinner all by itself, of the flying carpet, of the charming city of Leningrad, of his friends - proud, happy, good people, and of a wonderful country beyond the oceans, beyond the seven mountains, the so-called “Earth”... She listened quietly and attentively, and pressed closer to him as they heard now down below in the street - grrrrum, grrrrum, grrrrum - rang out the metallic sound of boots on pavement.

(translated by Wendayne Ackerman)


from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Monday Begins on Saturday (1965)

     The  labor legislation was being flagrantly ignored and I began to feel that I had lost all desire to struggle  against  this law-breaking, because, tonight at  twelve  o'clock on New Year's Eve,  plowing  through a blizzard, they  came  in,  these  people  who  had  more  interest  in  bringing to  a conclusion, or starting anew, a useful  undertaking than stunning themselves with  vodka,  mindlessly kicking  with  their  legs,  playing  charades, and

practicing flirtations in various degrees of frivolity. Here came people who would rather be with each other than anywhere else, who  couldn't stand  any kind of Sunday, because they  were bored on Sunday. They were magi, Men with a capital M, and their motto was  "Monday  begins on Saturday." True, they knew an incantation or two, knew how to turn water into wine, and any one of them would  not find  it difficult to  feed a thousand with five loaves. But they were not magi for that. That was  chaff,  outer tinsel. They were  magi because  they had a  tremendous knowledge, so much  indeed that quantity had finally  been  transmuted  into quality, and they had come  into a different relationship  with  the  world  than  ordinary  people.  They worked  in  an Institute that was dedicated  above all to  the problems of human  happiness and the  meaning  of human life, and even among  them, not one knew  exactly what was happiness  and what precisely was the meaning of life. So they took it  as a working hypothesis that happiness  lay in  gaining  perpetually new insights into the unknown and  the meaning  of life was to be found  in the same process. Every man is a magus in  his inner  soul, but  he becomes one only when he begins to think less about himself and  more about others, when it becomes more interesting for him to work than to recreate himself in the ancient meaning  of the word.  In all probability, their working hypothesis was not far from the truth, for just as work had transformed ape into man so

had the absence of  it transformed man into ape in much  shorter periods of time.  Sometimes  even into something worse than an ape. We constantly notice these things  in our daily life. The loafer and sponger,  the careerist and the debauchee, continue to walk about on their hind extremities and to speak quite  congruently (although the roster of their subjects shrinks  to a cipher).  As to tight pants and infatuation with jazz, there was an attempt at one time to use these factors as indices of apeward transformation, but it was quickly determined that they were often the property of even the best of the magi.

     However,  it was impossible to conceal regression at  the Institute. It presented limitless opportunities to  transform man into magus. But it was merciless toward regressors and marked them without a miss. All a colleague had to do was to give himself over to egotistical and instinctive behavior (and sometimes just thinking about it), and he would notice  in  terror that the fuzz on his ears would grow thicker. That was by way of warning. Just as

a police whistle warns of a fine, or a pain warns of a possible trauma. Then everything depended on oneself. Quite often a man could not contend with his sour thoughts, that's  why  he  was  a man - the passing  stage between neanderthal and magus. But he could act contrary to these thoughts, and then he  still had  a chance.  Or he could give in, give it all  up (“We live only once," “You should take all you can  out of life," “I am no stranger to all that's human”), but then there was only one thing to do: leave the Institute as soon as possible. There, on the outside, he could still remain at least a decent citizen, honestly  if flabbily earning his pay. But it was difficult to decide on leaving. It was cozy and  pleasant  at the Institute, the work was clean and respected, the pay was not bad, the people were wonderful, and shame would not eat one's eyes  out.  So  they wandered about, pursued with

compassionate glances, through the halls and the labs, their  ears covered with gray bristles, aimless, losing clarity of speech, growing more  stupid under one's very eyes. Still, you could pity them, you could try to help and hope to revert them to human aspect.

     But there were others. With empty eyes. Those knowing with certainty on which side their bread was  buttered.  In their own way they were not stupid.  In  their  own  way they  were  not bad judges of human nature. They  were calculating  and unprincipled, knowledgeable  of all the  weaknesses of man, clever at turning  any bad situation into a  good deal for  themselves, and tireless at that occupation. They shaved their ears painstakingly and kept inventing the most marvelous means for getting rid of their hairy coverings.  Quite  often,  they succeeded in attaining considerable heights and great success in their basic purpose - the construction of a bright future in a single private  apartment or on a single private suburban  plot, fenced off with barbed wire from the rest of humanity.

(translated by Leonid Renen)


from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic (197x)

    The boy kept walking down, dancing a jig, shuffling to his own beat, and the white dust rose from his heels, and he was shouting at the top of his lungs, clearly, joyously, and festively - either a song or an incantation - and Redrick thought that this was the first time in the history of the quarry that a man went down there as though he were going to a party.  And at first he did not listen to what his talking key was yelling, and then something clicked inside him, and he heard:

    “Happiness for everybody!  ... Free! ... As much as you want! ... Everybody come here! ... There’s enough for everybody! Nobody will leave unsatisfied ... Free! ... Happiness! ... Free!”

    And then he was suddenly silent, as though a huge fist had punched him in the mouth.  And Redrick saw the transparent emptiness that was lurking in the shadow of the excavator’s bucket grab him, throw him up in the air, and slowly slowly twist him, like a housewife wringing her wash.

(translated by Antonina W Bouis)