Arkadii (Natanovich) Strugatskii Marc Slonim - Essay

Marc Slonim

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatski, popular Soviet science-fiction writers, are often compared to Ray Bradbury. Their first novel, "The Country of Purple Clouds," which depicted a flight to Venus, was very popular in Russia in 1959 and was followed by other highly successful visions of the future and its technological complexities.

Lately, however, the brothers … seem to have taken a new tack. "The Hellenic Secret" (1966) and "The Martians' Second Invasion" (1967) were sharply criticized in the Soviet press as negative in outlook and politically ambiguous. These accusations probably led the Strugatskis to take refuge in the Siberian magazines Angara and Baikal; but the editors of these two periodicals were recently demoted for having published heretical works by the brothers, "The Troika Fairy Tale" and "The Snail on the Slope." The latter provoked the Moscow censors to such wrath that the offending issue of the magazine in which it appeared is unobtainable in libraries or bookstores.

"The Snail on the Slope" is a caricature of Soviet bureaucracy represented by a fantastic "Office of Forest Affairs," with departments of Scientific Security, Mechanical Penetration and Extermination and their numerous subsections that serve to conceal inefficiency and hypocrisy under the disguise of haste and bustle, useless paper work and idiotic orders. When an outsider, the idealistic scholar Perec, arrives to study the hidden forest, he finds the area neglected and laid waste. Drawn into the absurd machinery of the Office of Forest Affairs, Perec goes through a series of astounding adventures and learns the truth about the nightmarish institution. Pravda called this merciless satire "a libel on and defamation of Soviet reality." Refusing to take "The Snail on the Slope" as a simple fantasy, it stressed the political implications of the story's most grotesque and whimsical scenes.

Marc Slonim, "Soviet Satire," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 13, 1970, p. 71.