Snow, time, and Soviet science fiction

Incredible how time sneaks by and I make excuses not to blog, like this is some chore or activity I might actually get paid for. Oh foolish reflexes…

november snow on bornholmerIt’s snowing outside (or at least it was when I was originally writing this), thick flakes filling the air like it’s the middle of winter, although the newscasters on N24 are adamant that this is only an Herbststurm. They call it a hurricaine too, and touted it for three days running on the morning news, which I can’t really say I agree with, but headlines are headlines, you gotta keep people watching the ads.

Last I checked, we were just barely coming back from Greece, or maybe bouncing down to Heidelberg and the Weinstrasse, and later Prague and Czesky Krumlov with my parents. Apparently a whole season came and went. Time now for serious work again. And Russian novels; as the first flakes came down yesterday we ritually went to visit St. Georges bookshop and I picked up a copy of “Anna Karenina.” Did I say work? I meant hot toddies and books thick enough to chew on.

And so before disappearing back into silence, I must recommend a recent new discovery, the pair of Soviet science fiction writers responsible for Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”, Arkadi and Boris Strugatsky. They’re the most famous Russians of the genre, yet not well known in English-speaking circles, or not as well as the far more widely published (and Polish) Lem.

Forget about that “Stalker” reference; they wrote it, and the book it’s based on, “Roadside Picnic”, but in fact they are closer to Philip Dick or a sci-fi Chandler. Their writing is smart and funny, dark and noir-ish, their jaundiced view of human nature and institutions reflected through characters’ helpless and corrupt responses to alien or fantastic events rather than simply our own decaying urban environments.

A page about them is here, with several English translations of their work available for download. “Roadside Picnic” is one of them, I highly recommend it to anyone with any taste at all for noir or sci-fi. If anybody in Berlin has a copy of the seemingly out-of-print “Monday Starts on Saturday”, can I borrow it?

2 Comments

  1. I don’t have that book… but I’m wondering if you’ve read or seen Aelita (I don’t have it either, though)? I’ve only seen the film, based on the novel by (Aleksei, not Lev) Tolstoy and I could imagine it being right up your alley. And Aimee’s.

  2. Bib — I don’t know Aelita at all, though I suspect my local Russian lit specialist might have a better idea about it. I’ll look it up, thank you for the recommendation!

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