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abs.rusfforum.org / "Foreign Office" / Natasha Hull. Presentation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's "Monday starts on Saturday" at Worldcon 63, SECC, Glasgow, 8.08.2005
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Роман Сидоров
# Дата: 10 Июл 2010 17:09 - Поправил: Роман Сидоров
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Presentation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's

Monday starts on Saturday

AT WORLDCON 63, SECC, GLASGOW, 8 August 2005


Цитата: Boris Strugatsky's greetings from St. Petersburg:
Dear friends!
When 45 years ago my brother and me started to work on "Monday" we didn't have a clue that in fact we participated in a birth of a new kind of literature which is now being called "fantasy". Back then it didn't have a special name at all, at least not in Russia. Well, maybe a "modern author's tale", of which no more than ten examples might have been found on all the shelves.

A lot of things changed since then. Fantasy became the most popular kind of SF literature. In Russia perhaps three quarters of all published SF is fantasy.

And proper science fiction as such with which the 20th century began now makes maybe no more than one title in a dozen. I don't know whether to rejoice or to grieve. Probably, for all that - to grieve, because I, for one, don't like fantasy - as well as any other literature which encourages escape from the reality. I was brought up in old classical traditions and therefore inclined to consider that a book is as good as it has a grip on reality, and the best fiction is the one which has reality growing through it, for outside reality it becomes an empty phantom of imagination.

However, the reader is always right. As well as the author, of course, but they are right differently and in different ways.

Let a hundred flowers blossom, and let nobody remain hurt.

Have a nice fantasy fiction!

Yours

Boris Strugatsky
St. Petersburg
4 July 2005


Natasha Hull

The brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, as you are all undoubtedly very well aware, are the most famous Russian writers of science fiction and fantasy. Their books influenced several generations of young Russians, opening up new horizons of intellectual freedom combined with endless fun. They are well known to sci-fi readers all over the world. The film Stalker by Andrey Tarkovsky, based on the Strugatsky's novel Roadside Picnic, brought them wide international recognition. In Russia they have countless followers: Sergey Lukianenko, Michael Uspensky, Viacheslav Rybakov, Alexander Gromov and many many more are all their loyal disciples, in the best meaning of this word: the style, the language, the sheer expanse of themes they write about can be traced to Strugatsky's prose.

Suffocating grip of bureaucracy, confrontation between individual and state, a choice between scientific honesty and freedom and comfort of conformism, paradox between technological progress and the destruction of the environment, theological comprehension of the Universe, alienation of children from the sick world of adults - these are just some of the problems Strugatsky's heroes are facing and trying to solve.

It is difficult to overestimate the scale of the Strugatsky's influence on Russian culture as a whole, though strictly speaking they are SF writers. In the world where freedom of speech existed only as a line in a Soviet Constitution their books carried a powerful message of liberation missed by the censors since it was disguised as science fiction with its main audience being teenagers, with illustrations usually confirming this impression (have a look at the book, it's "Inhabited Island", 1970).

Listen to this: "Because there wasn't a more disgusting state in the history of the world - said Ketshef. - Because I loved my wife and my child. Because you killed my friends and seduced my people. Because I always hated you," - it's the words of a political prisoner during the interrogation. Alien, of course, both the prisoner and the interrogators. Or this: "An irradiated brain lost its ability to analyse reality critically. Homo Thinking turned into Homo Believing, a frenzied fanatical believer who believed against and in spite of screaming reality. A person who was in the field of this radiation could be convinced by the most elementary methods in anything, and he took it as the only truth, bright and shining, and he was ready to live for it, suffer for it and die for it". Or this: "There was no force in the country which could liberate a huge nation who did not even know that it was not free".

And another piece: "The Fireborn Creators - said the Doctor, - is an anonymous group of the most dangerous plot-makers formed from military men, financiers and politicians. They have two targets: one - fundamental and one principal. The fundamental one is to hold on to power. The principal one is to get maximum satisfaction from this power. All of them are power-hungry, luxury-loving avaricious sadistic thugs."

And the last one: "It's clear: when the economy has become rotten, the best thing is to trigger a war, to shut everybody up. You can't keep hungry people convinced that they're well fed for a long time, they will go crazy".

I could translate paragraph after paragraph, but I think you have now an idea of what I am talking about. I mean, when I first read the words about "the only truth, bright and shining" I had a shiver down my spine - basically, the book it's taken from, "Inhabited Island", was the most anti-Soviet piece of literature I've ever read. The action is happening on another planet, so the Fireborn Creators had nothing in common with the Politburo members, of course - if you see what I mean.

I think these examples illustrate my point: in fact, it was the teenagers who enjoyed reading Strugatsky's books in the 60s and 70s who made perestroika happen in the 80s. Every new book was a revelation, it was sought after and sometimes found in obscure children's magazines published by some brave soul somewhere in Novosibirsk or Vladivostok in order to avoid the strict censorship of the metropolis. The lessons of extra-terrestrial social politology didn't go unnoticed. In a very real sense the fall of Communism in the USSR is a result of the fun people were having reading fantasy novels (well, not only that, of course - there were other reasons, I admit, like the desperate political and economic situation - but without the influence of books like Monday Starts on Saturday the collapse of economy might have led to the totalitarian nightmare).

Monday Starts on Saturday is Strugatsky's classic. Written in 1964, published in 1965, it started their incredible popularity. They had other books already published by then: their first book written together, "Country of Crimson Clouds" 1959, was later described by Boris Strugatsky as "an ugly monument to the whole epoch - with its fervent enthusiasm and enthusiastic stupidity; with its sincere yearning for good combined with total incomprehension what this good is; with its frenzied readiness for a self-sacrifice; with its cruelty, ideological blindness and classical Orwell's duplicity". Later they successfully combined daring scientific and social theories with eternal dilemmas of Good and Evil in an open for the courageous mind Universe: "Destination: Amalthea" 1960, "Far Rainbow" 1963, "Hard to be a God" 1964 and others. Their novels had a huge advantage over other SF books of that time, whose characters resembled clumsy castrated Frankenstein monsters from Communist propaganda posters, with tarnished slogans instead of normal human speech.

Consider this, for example, it's from "Kallisto" by Georgy Martynov, 1989:

"Today - he said, - foreign journalists are coming to the camp. There is a possibility that somebody will arrive here disguised as a journalist who is sent by forces hostile to the Soviet Union. Being afraid of the intensification of the USSR's military might these people are ready for anything. We can expect an attempt to destroy the alien spacecraft and its crew before we can find a common language with our visitors. The Soviet Government considers this danger".

Or: "We know that in certain circles of some capitalist countries the arrival of the spaceship caused a very different reaction. Military psychosis prevents these people from seeing the scientific significance of this event. The only thing they can think about is strengthening of the USSR's military might, which supposedly will be a result of knowledge received by Soviet scientists from Kallisto... Purely bestial hatred towards progress, inherent to the reactionary circles, is pushing them to the most abominable crime one can imagine. In short, they have decided that if the spacecraft has landed in our country then it's better to destroy it and the crew but not to give the USSR an opportunity to get another planet's advanced technological knowledge".

And the winner: "You're talking like a Communist! - said the American. "I am a Communist," - the Chinese replied simply.

And it goes on and on, for 477 pages, until bad American culprits are caught and the Soviets in a tight embrace with the Chinese under wise Communist Party guidance and vigilant KGB protection win the day by entering the alien spaceship. Sounds incredible now, but I must confess that I've read similar gibberish here, in English - so at least, it shows how Cold War fears were mirrored through the Iron Curtain.

Monday Starts on Saturday lifted the Strugatskies on a new level where nobody dared to climb before them. Their heroes lived in a solid real material world, which is described with the same no-nonsense convincing truthfulness as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wisardry. They talked normal Russian spoken language which we all knew and recognised - and that alone made the Strugatskies pioneers in their field. It is fair to say that in Russia in the 60s Monday Starts on Saturday had the same impact on the young generation's mentality as Harry Potter does here on children's. Older Soviet people didn't read it - the whole concept was far beyond their comprehension.

Political statements are smuggled into the text, starting with the very choice of place where it all takes place, Solovets: Solovets Islands in the Far North of Russia used to be the location of one of the Stalin's most horrible and cruel labour camps. The Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft in Solovets somehow - magically - helped to heal a still-bleeding wound. Or an empty space on the office wall where a portrait used to hang: how many Soviet officials had similar empty spaces on their walls, unwilling (or too frightened) to put something else there? The book was published only 12 years after Stalin's death, during Chkrushev's thaw, and it was clearly devoid of the pathological fear from which most of the population - not surprisingly - still suffered.

I'm talking about politics here for one reason only - the book itself is pure undiluted fun, which I hope to prove in a moment when I'll start reading it, and all these political nuances are noticeable only when you know where to look. I thought it might give you a chance to appreciate more the full extent of the brothers Strugatsky's genius. On the big scale of humanity's achievements it would be difficult to find anybody who in recent times made greater contribution to the evolution of the human mind in such a vast geographical area as the Strugatskies did. I'm obviously biased - it is not an accident that as a publisher I have chosen to print Monday: it is my favourite book ever, and I've read a few, you can trust me on this. But the fact that the Arts Council of England, who sponsored the project, also considered it beneficial for the better mutual understanding between Russia and the English-speaking world aimed to breaking the barriers created by the politicians during the Cold War, in order to manipulate people's fears and hatred, proves that I was probably right.

I must say a few words about the language of brothers Strugatsky. It is superb. They are brilliant masters of language, true successors of Nikolai Gogol and Michael Bulgakov. It is sheer pleasure to read their prose, so diverse in style - from the finest socialising of inter-stellar diplomats to the rough tongue of young fearless space explorers - but always alive. Also, they included English speech in the text of their novels. The last writer who had a foreign speech as part of his narrative was Lev Tolstoy - Russian aristocracy used to speak French, before the Napoleon's invasion. After the invasion it ceased to be fashionable. But English in the Soviet times was basically considered as the language of the Enemy No 1 - United States of America. So, again, it was quite daring of them to make their characters speak English.

Also, they had a glider as a form of helicopter which was actually pronounced "glider", a scorcher as a weapon which was pronounced "scorcher", a bio-synthesiser which was pronounced "bio-synthesiser" and so on. It might seem unimportant, but the significance of this might be a little more obvious to you in the light of recent developments in Russia. In May 2005 Russian Parliament faced the necessity of a very difficult decision: it was proposed to abolish the usage of all foreign words which could be replaced by native equivalents. Traditionally, Russian language - as any other language on Earth - has a lot of borrowed words: from Latin, from Greek, from German, from French - you name it. Recently, though, with the collapse of the Iron Curtain, there was a tendency to introduce much more English words than there used to be. Computing, banking, management - all these new areas of activities require a certain vocabulary. And if the young generation takes it easy and with pleasure, being well acquainted with Western rock music, older people have difficulties. Also, it contradicts the pro-Russian view of some part of the population. So, instead of "public library" - both words being foreign, from Latin, the Parliament would command to use "people's book-storage facility". Now imagine how it was in the 70s! Anyway, it's a bit out of our theme, perhaps. Just fresh impressions from my recent visit to St. Petersburg.

One other thing: the Strugatskies invented the Internet. Well, at least they had an idea. The first mention of so-called Big Global Informatorium is in the "Beetle in the Anthill", published in 1979. Now one of Russian SF web sites has a special feature, BGI.

I don't think there is much sense in telling you their biographies - if anybody is interested enough to buy a book, they can find the details in the foreword, or alternatively look at the web. But there is one moment here which I'd like to mention: both brothers were highly qualified professionals in their respective fields - Boris a mathematician and astronomer, and Arkady a translator from Japanese and English - and this enriched their approach to their literary work and made their books quite different from innumerable others, both in Russia and here in the West. They created a future world where people live and act motivated not by their primitive instincts of greed, envy and fear, deeply inserted in our collective subconscious in the process of evolution in order to win a dominant position on the Planet, but by sparkling inspirations of the human cortex, driven by the desire to learn and to share.

And this is how the real magic works, the only magic that exists - the infinite power of human mind released from the limitations of selfishness and the inhibitions of fear when it strives to benefit others.

Natasha Hull
London

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