Arkadii (Natanovich) Strugatskii Critical Essays

Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Arkadii (Natanovich) Strugatskii 1925– Boris (Natanovich) Strugatskii 1933–

(Also transliterated as Arkady Strugatsky) Russian science fiction writer, editor, and translator.

(Also transliterated as Boris Strugatsky) Russian science fiction writer.

Combining the literary talents of Arkadii, who has worked as an editor and translator of Japanese and English literature, and the scientific expertise of Boris, an astronomer, astrophysicist, and computer mathematician, the Strugatskii brothers have produced high quality science fiction, popular both in their homeland and abroad. They began writing in the post-Stalin era when Ivan Efremov's Andromeda reinvigorated science fiction in Russia and when constraints on writers were gradually eased. Unlike Efremov, who emphasized technology and adventure, the Strugatskiis explore social themes and ethics, speculate on social evolution, and depict the degrading effects of bureaucracy. Even though their future worlds reveal the expansion of Communism, their less than optimistic projections of social evolution and their satirization of bureaucracy have led to censorship of some of their works. These works have remained in circulation through samizdat, an underground system for spreading dissident works.

The early works of the Strugatskiis are set in a "future history" framework, a device used by several Western science fiction writers. These stories are characterized by the conflict between utopian ideals and historical obstacles. In Trudno byt' bogom; Ponedel'nik nachinaetsia v subbotu (1966; Hard to Be a God), for example, a protagonist is sent to a planet steeped in war in order to intervene and effect social change but finds himself powerless to do so. The more primitive alien society is unwilling, perhaps unable, to accept new values. Typical of the Strugatskiis's work, Hard to Be a God presents an intricate dilemma for which there is no easy resolution. Later works are more satirical, being especially critical of the presumption that humans can control the universe.

The Strugatskiis's refusal to neatly resolve complex problems, unlike most science fiction writers, has helped them win international acclaim. Their tendency to leave the reader pondering the implications of their stories, their poignant observations of human aspirations and failings, and the humor that infuses their work have made them a popular writing partnership in contemporary science fiction.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 106.)