Prominent Russians: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are well-known Soviet-Russian science fiction writers with a highly developed fan base. They became the spiritual leaders of Russian sci-fi literature in the 1960s, and to this day, their influence remains immense - entire generations were brought up on their books and loved them for their unique style. Though the early works of the Strugatsky bothers lacked individuality – at the beginning of their writing career their novels and short stories resembled those of Ivan Yefremov, a Soviet paleontologist and science fiction author who was the brothers’ lifetime icon and role model.
Strugatsky novels were very different from ordinary sci-fi novels: strictly speaking they didn’t write showpiece science fiction. The brothers have always tried to write not just about spaceships, technology or other fantastic stuff, but also about people and their problems.
At the beginning of the 1990s the brothers became the best-known and loved Soviet science-fiction writers abroad – their works were translated into multiple languages and published in 27 countries; a success Russian writers rarely experienced in the West.
Arkady Strugatsky was born on 28 August 1925 in Batumi, Georgia; his mother was a teacher and his father – a fine arts expert, who at the same time earned a bit on the side as a newspaper editor. Two months after the elder son was born, in autumn 1925, the family moved to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). When WWII broke out, Arkady first helped constructing defenses and then assisted at the grenade manufactory.
In 1942, together with his father, Arkady was evacuated from Saint Petersburg (his mother and younger brother were evacuated a bit later), which was under siege from the Germans. The blockade of Leningrad lasted 872 days and left more than a million and a half dead. The train in which the boy and his father were evacuated was blasted and Arkady was the only survivor in his train car.
Lonely and frustrated, Arkady buried his father in Vologda and went to Orenburg. In the suburbs of the little city of Tashle he worked at a milk receiving station and studied at a field artillery school. Later he was called up for military service and in spring 1943 was seconded to Moscow, to the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, which he finished in 1949. He became an interpreter with two foreign languages, English and Japanese, by profession.
Solo literary works
Arkady had a chance to work in his specialty – for some time he taught at the Canadian School for Military Interpreters and worked as a divisionary interpreter in the Far East. When Strugatsky left the military in 1955, he first worked at the “Review Magazine” and later as an editor at “The Detgiz” (the State Children’s Publishing House) and the State Political Publishing House.
Arkady started writing science fiction long before the war broke out, but all his manuscripts were lost during the blockade. His first novella, “How Kang Died” (1946), was published only in 2001, ten years after his death!
The first short story written by Arkady (co-authored with Leonid Petrov, another well-known Russian science-fiction writer), “Bikini Ash,” was published in 1958 and marked the beginning of the elder brother’s literary career.
In 1986 Arkady was awarded the State Prize for the script of the film “Letters of a Dead Man,” together with Vyacheslav Rybakov, a well known science fiction author, and Konstantin Lopushansky, the film’s director.
Arkady wrote several works under the pen-name S. Yaroslavtsev; among them the harlequin fairy-tale “An Expedition into Inferno” (1974) and “Devil Among People,” written in 1991 and published two years later.
No one actually knew where the pen-name came from; some believe it is derived from the name of the railway station, Yaroslavsky Vokzal, near which Arkady lived, and the initial “S” denoted the first letter of the famous surname.
Family and private life
Arkady was married twice. His first marriage was not durable, the couple divorced in 1954, though they had a daughter, who after the divorce stayed with Arkady; his second wife, Elena Oshanina, had a daughter with him, too, and brought up both girls as her own.
Arkady Strugatsky died on 12 October 1991 from liver cancer. He was
cremated on his own accord and his ashes were scattered from a helicopter.
Boris Strugatsky was born on 15 April 1933 in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). During the Great Patriotic war he was evacuated, but returned after the war was over. Boris graduated from school in Leningrad with honors. He wanted to enter the physics department of the Leningrad State University but was not admitted; after the failure Boris decided to enter the mechanical-mathematical department of the same university. He qualified as an astronomer and worked for some time at the Pulkovo Observatory.
In 1964 Boris, along with his elder brother Arkady, was admitted to the USSR Writers’ Guild and started working as a professional writer.
Accomplishments and solo works
In 1972 Boris was appointed head of the Leningrad Seminary for Young Sci-fi Writers (which later changed its name to the Boris Strugatsky
Seminary). Later he became a “Bronze Snail” prize founder.
In 2002 Boris became editor-in-chief of the magazine “Noon, XXI Century”; four years later he participated in writing the book “Autograph of the Century” – Boris signed every single one of the 250 editions.
After his elder brother, Arkady, died, Boris continued to write sci-fi stories and novels under the pen-name of S. Vititsky, producing “Search for Designation or Twenty Seventh Theorem of Ethics” and “The Powerless Ones of this World.”
Boris has written a book of commentaries dedicated to the complete set of works by the brothers, that describes how this or that novel or short story was written, what influenced the Strugatskys at the time, etc.
In 2002 Boris Strugatsky became an annual Literature and Arts Award winner and in 2008 he was given the “Symbol of Science” medal. Boris Strugatsky is also a winner of the “Great Ring Award” literary prize.
Family and private life
Boris Strugatsky is married to Adelaide Karpyuk; the couple has two children – Andrey and Viktor.
Boris is well-known for his passion for stamps; he is a votary of philately.
The two brothers as a rule worked in collaboration with each other, and their novels were published under the name of Brothers Strugatsky or under the pen-names of S. Pobedin and S. Vitin.
The first book written by the Strugatskys, a novella “The Land of Crimson Clouds,” was published in 1959. The brothers recall that it was a bet – Arkady’s first wife did not believe in its future success, and the brothers were eager to prove her wrong.
The short stories written by the two brothers were different from Western sci-fi prose: the characters in their books were human-like and very accurately depicted – they were all intellectual and kind people. Their first collection of stories, “Six Matches,” was published in 1960.
The Strugatsky brothers created a new method for arranging the history of the future. Unlike its Western antitype, the method didn’t possess a clear-cut chronological pattern, but had a complicated set of pass-through characters – those that were mentioned in practically every novel and short story, “wandering” from one book to another; thus a huge complex sci-fi world was created, one that had no match in any other country or culture.
The first trilogy of novels is set at the turn of the 22nd century when space exploration has resulted in the universe being united under planet-wide communism. The story begins with three cosmonauts, Bykov, Yurkovsky and Krutikov flying to Venus (in the first novel, “V Strane Bordovih Tuch,” in Russian “The Land of Crimson Clouds,” published in 1959), and continues as the brave young men make routine inspection trips to all the planets of the Solar system in the third novel “Stajery” or “Apprentices” (1962).
Despite the nod towards Soviet-style space romance, the early works written by the brothers stood out against the background of Soviet science fiction: the style was always vivid and memorable; a number of “pass through” topics and interesting uncommon socialist problems were dealt with and described in a humorous manner, which was quite uncharacteristic of the sci-fi genre.
The best-known and most famous books of the period are the novels of the series “Polden, 22 vek” or “Noon, XXII century.” The fundamental idea of the series was that people of the future did not actually differ much from those of the present – one of the short stories even bears the title “Almost Alike.”
Years of the Thaw
In the late 1960s the novels written by the brothers acquired multiple meanings, and their works started gaining popularity, both from common readers and from the political authorities. And though the Strugatsky brothers were in no way connected with dissident movements, they had difficulty publishing their works in the USSR - many of the books were deformed by censorship.
One of the most noteworthy novellas, “A Snail on the Slope,” was only published in 1989, though written in 1966. “Ugly Swans” (1972), which was to a large extent autobiographical, depicted the fate of an artist in a totalitarian society; the element of science fiction was kept to a minimum.
In the 1970s the Strugatsky brothers published several novels, though only two gained worldwide popularity: “Piknik na obochine” and “Space Mowgli.” Together with the early novella “From Beyond” (1958) they were published in a book called “Appointments Not Made.” The novels describes a young man, who discovers the site where aliens crash-landed and left numerous strange things behind. The novel “Piknik na obochine” was translated into English as “Roadside Picnic” in 1977 and filmed by Andrey Tarkovsky under the title “Stalker.”
Among the last works written by the brothers, critics usually mention a large novel “The Doomed City” (1988-1989); parts of the novel were written much earlier – at the beginning of the 1970s. The story is set in the City, a place beyond time and space. Alien mentors have selected a group of Earthmen from different times and cultures to carry out a social experiment – they want to watch the great clash of cultures and ideologies. But something goes wrong, and the Earthmen have to live through civil wars, economical and ecological disasters, fascist coups and other similar horrors. The gloomy novel marked the onset of Boris’s writer’s block, instigated by his brother, Arkady’s death in 1991. It addressed the philosophical matters of the destination of men on Earth and choices one has to make, not always between good and evil, but sometimes between two evils.
Several other works, apart from “Roadside Picnic” were translated into German, French, and English but did not receive the same attention and were less admired by Russian audiences. The Strugatsky brothers, however, were and still are popular in many countries, including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Germany (most of their works were available in both East and West Germany).
Some of the books written by the brothers take place in the same universe, known as The World of Noon, or The Wanderers’ Universe. The name mirrors the title of one of their best known novels – “Noon: XX Century.” The Noon Universe is very peculiar – it boasts an extremely high level of social, scientific and technological development. The Noon World knows no monetary stimulation (money does not exist) and every person is engaged in a profession that interests him or her. The Earth of the Noon Universe is governed by a global technocratic council composed of the world's leading scientists and philosophers.
The Universe was described by the Strugatsky brothers as an ideal place in which they would like to live and work; many people loved the described world and every now and then quoted the novels.
An exhibition, dedicated to the brothers was opened in the Nizhniy Novgorod region in spring 2003. The exhibit presents the three sides of the brothers’ occupation: writing, teaching and translating. A number of articles dedicated to the Strugatsky brothers’ works and novels are gathered at the exhibition together with books written by the brothers’ fans and followers.
The brothers were Guests of Honor at the 1987 World Science Fiction Convention, held in Brighton, England.
Written by Anna Yudina, RT