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Prominent Russians: Sergey Lukyanenko

Born April 11, 1968

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Sergey Lukyanenko is a science fiction and fantasy writer, working in Russian. He is arguably the most popular contemporary Russian sci-fi writer.

Lukyanenko is a prolific writer – as a rule he releases one or two books a year, as well as a number of a critical articles and a handful of short stories. Recently his works have been adapted into film productions, for which he wrote the screenplays. He is also a blogger, keeping a blog at LiveJournal, where he posts both personal and public information.

Early years

Sergey was born on 11 April 1968 in Karatau (the administrative center of the Talas Region located in the Jambyl Province in the south of Kazakhstan). His father was of Russian-Ukrainian origin and his mother was Tatar; Sergey’s parents were both doctors. After finishing school Sergey moved to Alma-Ata and in 1986 entered the Alma-Ata State Medical Institute – Sergey loved medicine and dreamed of following in his parents’ wake. He studied at the therapeutic department and after graduation received a degree as an internist. After five years of studies Sergey started his residency training, which he successfully finished as a trained psychiatrist. After he finally graduated, Lukyanenko joined one of the Alma-Ata hospitals, where he specialized in child psychiatry, but soon quit: the salary was so paltry it was impossible to support a family.

Youth and literary works

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While still at university Sergey started writing short stories and essays. He recalls that he first thought about writing a short story when he failed to find a nice book to read in the evening; several hours later he had already written three sci-fi stories. One of the first three, “Where the Mean Enemy Lurks” was published in 1988 and is still republished from time to time. After the unexpectedly good start, Lukyanenko made up his mind to change occupations and quit the hospital - his writing began to earn a profit. As a student Lukyanenko became an active member of Russian fandom (a subculture composed of fans who share a common interest) and became engrossed with visiting conventions and attending seminars all around the country.

In 1993 Sergey was appointed deputy editor of a local science fiction magazine, where he worked until 1996. Nowadays, when Lukyanenko recalls this period, he considers it to be one of the hardest of his life – the salary was still quite low and his family struggled to make ends meet. However, in the mid-90s the situation improved: Lukyanenko was rapidly gaining popularity and started to frequent Russia (which by then had become a foreign country, thus the trips were becoming more and more difficult). But in 1996 Lukyanenko moved to Moscow, where he currently resides.

Writing career

Lukyanenko started his writing career in the eighties while still at university. His first publication was the short story “Misconduct” (1987). Having sci-fi short stories published was in itself luck, as in USSR the genre was considered primarily a political tool rather than art and thus was dependant on political masters. But the authorities looked with favor on the young writer, and Lukyanenko attended a number of literary seminars and published a bunch of novellas and short stories with the full approval of the Soviet leadership.

Sergey’s first works were greatly influenced by the famous Russian children's author and teacher Vladislav Krapivin and Robert A. Heinlein (an American science fiction writer), both of whom were and still remain Lukyanenko’s idols. These early works dealt with such matters as coming of age, loyalty and friendship; but quite soon Lukyanenko changed his style. In 1992 the novel “Knights of 40 Islands” appeared which brought its author into line with writers, who followed the Goldingian tradition of writing.

The novel “Seekers of Heaven” marks the beginning of a new period in the life of the writer – Sergey started experimenting with language stylization and religious topics. Later he resorted to another genre he was fond of – the space opera.

At the turn of the century

One of the crowning achievements in Sergey’s writing career of the period is the trilogy “Labyrinth of Reflections” (1996), which became an iconic book in the nineties in Russia. “Labyrinth of Reflections” is the first novel in the Labyrinth trilogy - cyberpunk novels written by Lukyanenko. The second and the third parts of the trilogy are “False Mirrors” (1998) and “Transparent Stained-Glass Windows” (2000); between the second and third books, Sergey Lukyanenko authorized the release of a compilation of stories by other authors set in the same world as the trilogy.

The story is set in the near future, where a chance invention allows people to experience virtual reality without the need for costly hardware: a seconds’ long movie drives a person into a sort of psychosis, forcing his subconscious to perceive a simple 3D game as the real world. The virtual world, which becomes the new world for millions of people, is called “the Deeptown.”

Among other famous novels of the same period are “Autumn Visits” (1995-1996), considered to be one of the “darkest” and most depressive books ever written by Lukyanenko; the duology “Cold Coasts” (2001) and “Morning Nears” (2001) presents an attempt to create a new myth about the Savior within the traditional genre of “thief sci-fi”; and “Spectrum” (2002) which is, no doubt, the most stylistically sophisticated novel that received practically each and every fandom award the year it was published.

Success and fame

The novellas “Knights of 40 Islands” and “Nuclear Dream” marked the beginning of Sergey’s fame in Russia. Also, two space opera trilogies, published in 1992 (“Line of Dreams,” the setting of which was loosely based on that of the “Master of Orion” series of videogames, and the earlier “Lord from Planet Earth,” based on the rather dark setting brought forth in his early short stories) made Lukyanenko’s style recognizable and his books loved and sought for.

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The novel “Night Watch,” written in the fantasy genre, added to the strength of Lukyanenko’s popularity; the readers loved the plot with numerous twists, vivid characters and an unexpected ending. The story revolves around a confrontation between two opposing supernatural groups (also known as "The Others"): the Night Watch, an organization dedicated to policing the actions of the Dark Others, and the Day Watch, which polices the actions of the Light Others.

In 1999 Sergey Lukyanenko became the youngest “Aelita” prizewinner. “Aelita” is the oldest and one of the most respected Russian literary prizes awarded for the contribution to the genre of sci-fi. Lukyanenko himself, though, did not consider the genre he wrote in to be pure science fiction; he called it “violent action sci-fi” or “pass sci-fi.”

In 2004 the film “Night Watch” appeared, it was based on the book and was called the first true Russian blockbuster. The film grossed more than US $16 million in Russia! After such success, an adaptation of the film was released in the US and in Europe. The sequel of the film, “Day Watch,” was released two years later in 2006. The battle-weary cinema-men wanted the second film’s release to be showy: the premier which took place on 1 January 2006 smashed all previous box office records despite the fact that most people were still coming to life after the jolly New Year celebrations. In the US the film was released a year and a half later – in June 2007.

The two movies made Lukyanenko not just a well-known Russian science-fiction writer, but a world famous celebrity with millions of fans, followers and imitators. Sergey started to take part in various TV shows and radio programs and making public appearances. Some time later Lukyanenko published “Kid Watch” – a “kid” version of “Day Watch” featuring a teenage agent.

Since the unqualified success of the two “Watches” Lukyanenko has considered several other book adaptations. To date, only one of the projects has been realized – in 2005 a children’s film “Asiris Nuna” (based on the story “Today, Mother!” coauthored with Yuly Burkin – a Russian sci-fi writer and musician) was released. In the meantime, several other books have been published, such as the novel “Spectrum” and the series “Rough Draft” and “Final Draft.”

Success overseas

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Until 2005 few of Lukyanenko’s works were published in the West as Sergey was mainly read in Russia and considered a local celebrity. Still, several novels were translated and published in Poland and Bulgaria.

The English-speaking world became aware of the sci-fi genius only after the releases of the “Watches” but since then Sergey has enjoyed popularity in the West as well. Other foreign publications in major European and Asian languages appeared in the last two years, their popularity, again, brought on by the successful movies. Lukyanenko’s books generally receive positive reviews.

Lukyanenko has received more than 30 awards for both his short stories and his novels.

Sci-fi goes interactive

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Nowadays fans and followers of the famous writer may take a dive into the midst of the “Night Watch” – a series of computer games, both tactical games and arcade-like races, based on the two films (“Night Watch” and “Day Watch”); and there is also a well-known browser on-line game based on the “Watch” films.

Apart from the “Watches” there is an RPG based on the book “Not the Time for Dragons”; a gaming adaptation of the duology “The Stars Are Cold Toys” is about to be released.

For the unfortunate lovers of the sci-fi worlds depicted by Lukyanenko, who don’t happen to have a computer, there are numerous table games and games designed specially for cell phones, all of which are based on the books written by Sergey Lukyanenko.

Family and private life

Sergey is married; he lives in Moscow with his wife and two sons, Artemy and Daniil. Lukyanenko has several pets – a handful of fancy mice and a Yorkshire terrier named Busya. The writer loves cooking.

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