Thursday, September 16

The door to the future that Eastern European science fiction wrote in the past reopens


The power of Anglo-Saxon culture, and its audiovisual sector, makes it easier for the first utopian and dystopian novels of modern science fiction to be found in the literary tradition in the English language. Britain’s HG Wells, enduringly popular as a result of The invisible man or War of the Worlds, also conceived supposedly ideal futures with some disturbing aspects in When the sleeper awakens. Edward Bellamy signed Looking back, also known as The year 2000, a huge now somewhat forgotten bestseller that catalyzed a civic socialist club movement in America in the late 19th century. And William Morris signed News from nowhere. All of them share a similar premise: their protagonists suffered commas or prolonged dreams that de facto transferred them to a distant future.

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To these names must be added those of various creators of Russia in the years before and immediately after the Russian Revolution. The authors of On another planet and of Red Star they coincided in locating communist societies on Mars through stories, traveled by obvious ideological sympathies, which sought the astonishment of the reader through the story of incredible discoveries and discoveries. In Eastern Europe itself, what is often considered the first great modern literary dystopia was conceived. the utopias of Wells or Bogdanov (the aforementioned Red Star and its prequel The engineer Meini) began to treat, not always voluntarily, the mixture of the utopian with the dystopian, but it was Evgeni Zamiatin who openly and intentionally addressed the possible totalitarian drift of collectivism. His novel We have been considered a strong source of inspiration for George Orwell in the making of his nightmare of control and surveillance (among many other things) 1984.

With the ups and downs derived from literary fashions and the political context, fiction with anticipatory elements or technological speculation continued to be relevant in Eastern Europe. And several publications have served to recover part of this production, especially from Russia before and after the revolution, but also from communist Poland where Stanislaw Lem lived, of whom Impedimenta has commercialized the resounding novel The Invencible. Alba Editorial has reissued in a single volume the duo of anthological books Pioneers of Russian science fiction (1892-1929), where works by Bogdanov himself and other writers (such as the journalist Porfiri P. Infántiev or the mysterious Alexey M. Volkov) are collected.

Akal, meanwhile, has launched Engineer Garin’s hyperboloid, a story of spies and lasers set in the interwar world where the fascist threat began to unfold. And Ediciones Gigamesh has recovered the wonderful Stalker, created by the Strugatski brothers, in full translation and with a warm prologue by which Ursula K. Le Guin. She proved again that she was as good a writer as a reader. All these publications serve to compose a partial alphabet of the science fiction literature of Eastern Europe.

Alexander Bogdanov: science as an imperfect path to follow

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Bogdanov was a revolutionary political activist and scientist convinced of the curative, even rejuvenating potential of blood transfusions. Thanks to the now defunct Nevsky Prospects publishing house, science fiction fans were able to access the author’s main narrative work in Spanish: his diptych of novels on the construction of socialism on Mars. On Red Star it explained the journey of a worker to a more or less utopian Mars that could serve as a political model. In the back The engineer Meini, the historical process (and the aristocratic leadership) that had led to this state of things was recounted.

Pioneers of Russian science fiction includes the other great literary creation of the most fanciful Bogdanov: the short story “The feast of immortality.” Although the author believed in the possibility of lengthening life through medical advances, on this occasion he anticipated some possible problems of these advances. It takes us to a future where people live for hundreds of years and accumulate dozens and dozens of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The protagonist is a man horrified by the feeling of repetition derived from having accumulated so many experiences over time. And it is that Soviet science fiction, initially so fascinated by technological and scientific progress, could also explore despair.

Valeri Briussov: a poet who peered into apocalyptic fiction

This versatile writer was a poet who also cultivated fantasy literature. Perhaps his most renowned work is The angel of fire, a novel set in feudal Germany and full of occult elements that was taken to opera by Sergei Prokofiev. The anthology Pioneers of Russian science fiction 1892-1929 It includes two stories by Briussov, “The Mountain of the Star” and “The Republic of the Southern Cross.” The second of them, published in 1905, shows that intellectuals and writers with leftist sympathies could be aware of the difficulties of managing a revolutionary success. The author proposed a satire that anticipates a dictatorship of the proletariat managed by a small number of leaders who control the organs of supposed expression of the popular will. It transports the reader to a future where an exchange of freedom has taken place in exchange for material comfort, for a more generous transfer of what would be capitalist surplus value.

This kind of social peace explodes because of a disease that also has satirical overtones: an epidemic of extreme contradictions between what is said and what is done, between what is intended and what is carried out. The story includes quite common elements of the science fiction of his time: he imagines very limited technological progress and the gaze starts from the contemporary referent of industrial society, its metallurgy and its railways, even if devices are imagined to be invented. At the same time, Briussov explores territories more unusual at that time, as a decidedly apocalyptic drift of events. The disaster show becomes the centerpiece of a play, punctuated by a certain sarcasm that contradicts a tendency toward amiability and soft humor common in the show. sci-fi literary of the moment.

Stanislaw Lem: the genius and his extensive book of narrative recipes

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The work of this gifted with letters can provide all kinds of joys. The variety of his output made novelist Philip K. Dick think, with a tendency to paranoid thinking derived from his mental disorders and his use and abuse of drugs, that he was the pseudonym of a group of writers. The reason? We owe to the same pen puzzling detective novels (Hay fever), delicacies with the air of medieval tales set in space (Cyberiad), unclassifiable mixtures of imaginative literature and essays traversed by piercing reflection covered in irony (see the books belonging to his XXI Century Library project) and all kinds of literary wonders.

The Invencible it could be considered a novel of transversal interest. It is suitable for fans of the most personal Lem, but it can also attract audiences who are fond of a science fiction more oriented to the narration of events. It is about a mission of space exploration and rescue attempt: the crew of the ship that gives its title to the book arrives on a planet to search for survivors of another expedition, and they find a world inhabited by nanobots with attack capabilities. Are they intelligent beings, are they a weapon forgotten by a vanished civilization, are they both or neither of the above? The Polish writer offered an adventure that connects with some of his most common themes (arms escalation, the possibility of not understanding at all with other intelligences), but he does so without the pessimistic (or realistic?) Sense of humor in the observation of human miseries that marks titles like Peace on Earth. In return, it offers moments that are close to the heroic (and agonistic) tale of adventures set on alien soil.

Arkadi and Borís Strugatski: the ‘alien’ enigma, seen by a worker

The Strugatski brothers are other outstanding authors of fantasy literature of all time thanks to the film adaptation made by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovski, Stalker (Alien Picnic), one of his best known novels. The director was inspired by the work of the Strugatskis, but signed a film of a radically different tone. On Stalker a very atypical contact (or non-contact) with extraterrestrial life forms is explained. The aliens settle in six areas of the Earth that they leave shortly after, without making any apparent communication attempts. The areas, places of wonders and horrors that defy human understanding, are visited by scientists and by people who go underground and risk their lives to obtain technologies of vague uses to sell on the black market. The protagonist of the novel is one of those looters, a worker with problems with authority who is capable of generous and terrible acts.

Stalker It conveys a kind of distorted realism, perhaps a bit ugly, with a certain black humor. In some way, it connects with the landscapes of technological garbage and industrial abandonment that characterized part of cyberpunk science fiction. The Strugatskis are also in tune with Lem’s imaginary, expressed repeatedly in works such as Fiasco or Solaris: intelligences are not necessarily meant to understand each other. Stalker it is a narrative enjoyment, but it also incorporates pointed reflections that undermine several pillars of anthropocentric thought: neither does a ultimately self-indulgent view of the human species appear, destructive but salvageable, nor is it reserved a special place in a universe that it has only just begun to understand.

Alexei N. Tolstoy: science fiction spies

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The Tolstoy family gave birth to several literati. Among them, a giant like Lev Tolstoy, author of War and peace or Hadji murat, aristocrat defender of anarchism and the rights of the peasantry and workers in a Russia that was beginning to industrialize. Alexei K. Tolstoy was a versatile writer with romantic roots who wrote, among other things, nouvelles and fantastic tales of vampires. To Alexei Nikolaevich Tolstoy, a liberal sympathizer in Tsarist Russia who later went into exile with the aristocratic forces to end up balancing in the Stalinist USSR, we owe historical frescoes such as the trilogy of novels. Pilgrimage through the paths of pain, but also forays into science fiction like Aelita.

Akal publishing house has edited Engineer Garin’s hyperboloid, originally published in 1927, within his collection Clásicos de la Literatura. The invention of a weapon of enormous power serves to propel a very dynamic adventure (the rapid succession of chapters, no less than 130, is an example of this), with a multinational setting and with science fiction components. The work refers to the narratives pulp of the time, to Fantomas or Fu Manchú, with their spies, their costumes and their doubles, with their mysterious islands and their criminal masterminds, but it also contains some pauses and some details in the description of characters that reveal the author’s sensitivity. The appropriately political elements are not lacking: the Garin of the title explicitly serves (reference to Mussolini included) as a fanciful incarnation of a fascism that can be very useful for the interests of big capital.



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