Unconventional Authors of Science Fiction: Strugatski Brothers


Sci-fi literature has long been a genre dominated by Anglo-Saxon writers. Having laid the foundations of the genre and served its development, Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Arthur C. Clarke and, Douglas Adams are of English origin, while Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and Ursula K. Leguin who made science fiction rise again and again from its ashes, were of American origin. There are also great non-Anglo-Saxon science fiction writers, such as Jules Verne and Stanislaw Lem, but they remain singular examples.

In the last decade, when I started writing science fiction stories and novels, I read a lot of science fiction books to get to know the genre, and after a while, I started to wonder how writers from different cultures interpreted science fiction. One day, while I was looking at the sci-fi shelves in the bookstore, a book called 'Hard to Be a God' appeared before me. It was interesting that the author of the book was ‘Arkadi and Boris Strugatski’. Although I have enjoyed watching films made by directors such as the Wachowski sisters and Coen brothers, I had never read a novel written by two authors before. It was clear from their names that the authors were Russian, and I was also interested in the name of the book. I wondered how two people write books together and investigated their lives.

Arkadi Strugatski was born in Batumi, on the border with Turkey, in 1925, and his family later moved to Leningrad. He graduated from the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in 1949 as a Japanese English translator. He worked as a translator for the military until 1955 and started working as an editor and writer in the following period.

Boris Strugatski was born in Leningrad in 1933 and graduated as a physicist from Leningrad State University in 1955. He worked as an astronomer and computer engineer at the Pulvoko observation house. Similar to his older brother Arkadi, he became a member of the Soviet Writers' Union in 1964.
The cooperation of the two brothers in writing books began in 1958 and continued until 1991 when Arkadi died. In the works they have written, it seems that Arkadi was mainly interested in the literary dimension, and Boris contributed to the science dimension.

Strugatski brothers created a utopian universe called the Noon Universe in their early writing. As a result of the victory of communism on the planet, technological progress has accelerated, resources have become extremely abundant, and the need for labor has disappeared. Humanity is capable of interstellar travel at speeds close to instantaneous. The state has disappeared, and the functioning of the system is ensured through the upbringing of everyone as responsible individuals under the guidance of several high councils, which are accepted by everyone. The main governing body is the World Council, which consists of the brightest scientists, historians, doctors, and teachers. Local issues are dealt with by the regional versions of the council.

Hard To Be a God, set in the Noon universe created by the Strugatski brothers, was about a historian named Anton who visit a planet that was at the level of civilization in the Middle Ages of the world. Anton being transferred from the future, according to ethical principles, could not directly interfere with the flow of events, but he was unable to remain indifferent in the face of injustices and atrocities that had taken place. I can't say that I got caught up in the book and easily read and finished it; still, I remember finding it original as a sci-fi book and liking its powerful depictions that appeal to the five senses. Hard To Be a God is a book in which authors move away from their optimism on political issues and implicitly question the concept of Marxism, instilling consciousness in the masses from the outside. A small excerpt from the book: Cruelty means strength. Rulers who abandon cruelty also lose their power and are replaced by other wrongdoers.

In the novel Roadside Picnic, the authors discussed a region said to be descended from aliens and the events that develop around it. In the book, the adventures of Redrick Schuhart in and around the forbidden zone were described with exquisite depictions. In the novel, the reader feels how ordinary people, on the one hand, were forced to work in difficult conditions by the ruling classes, and on the other hand, were powerless in the face of universal order.

The Stalker film, made by Andrey Tarkovsky based on the novel Roadside Picnic, enabled authors to gain recognition in the international community. Stalker, a 1979 cult sci-fi classic, is not a movie that everybody can watch because of its slow pace and time close to three hours. The pace of this eccentric film, set in an atmosphere of a visual feast, is quite slow from the novel it was inspired by, and again, unlike the novel, religious icons occupy an important place in the narrative.

The novels of the Strugatstki brothers, such as Roadside Picnic, One Billion Years to the End of the World, Hard to be a God, and Mondays Start From Saturday, do not contain intensive scientific knowledge. Based on the fact that the authors pay more attention to the philosophical and sociological aspects of the issues, it is possible to characterize them as social science fiction.

Due to the similarity of living conditions, Russian literature has received attention in Turkey. Another feature that makes them interesting is that the Strugatski brothers gave their important works during the time of the Soviet Union. I may have liked the books of authors because they remind me of classic Russian writers such as Lev Tolstoy, Maksim Gorki with their powerful narratives.

What can we say about them when we consider the works of the Strugatksi brothers collectively? The fact that the younger brother Boris was an astrophysicist has had a significant impact on the mood of books. The authors must have internalized the size of the universe and how insignificant our world remains on this huge stage. I find it important that they make us feel this creepy air of tension. A deep insight into the absurdity of what is happening in the universe and the bureaucratic threats that swing like the sword of Damocles over their heads are important elements that give the books of the Strugastki brothers their color. On the other hand, I also need to note that the characters created by the authors are not in a nihilistic state. They feel as if they have been left to their hopeless fate by higher beings; on the other hand, they do not hold back from going over events with courage. Just like the Strugatski brothers, who were afraid of bureaucratic pressures, but do hesitate to write what they preferred to write while trying to understand the universe, even though they are aware of its chaos.

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