Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (strew-GAHT-skee) are among the best-known Russian science-fiction writers in America, and they were honored for their wit and imagination. Arkady, the elder brother, died on October 14, 1991, in Moscow. Arkady and Boris were sons of Nathan Strugatsky, a bibliographer, and Aleksandra Litvinchova, a teacher.

Arkady,...

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Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (strew-GAHT-skee) are among the best-known Russian science-fiction writers in America, and they were honored for their wit and imagination. Arkady, the elder brother, died on October 14, 1991, in Moscow. Arkady and Boris were sons of Nathan Strugatsky, a bibliographer, and Aleksandra Litvinchova, a teacher.

Arkady, the linguist of the writing team, received a degree from the Russian Institute of Foreign Languages in 1949. He worked as an editor and translator of English and Japanese until 1964. Arkady married Elena Oshanina, a Sinologist (a student of Chinese language, literature, and civilization), in 1955. Boris, the younger brother, earned an astronomy degree from Leningrad University in 1956 and became the team’s scientist. In 1957 Boris married Adelaida Karpeliuk, another astronomer. Both brothers worked in their chosen fields until 1964, when they became full-time writers.

The Strugatskys began writing science fiction in 1955. Their first novel, presenting a flight to Venus, The Country of the Crimson Clouds, began an interplanetary cycle that included Destination: Amaltheia and Space Apprentice. Similar to space operas by Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, these future histories presented classless societies on Earth and on the distant planets and stars, along with the death of capitalism and the universal acceptance of communism.

In the 1960’s, the Strugatskys turned away from their earlier sociopolitical orthodoxy and developed their science fiction through witty parables, social satires, or folktales. Far Rainbow, Hard to Be a God, Monday Begins on Saturday, and Tale of the Troika evidence their growing concern and disillusionment with socialism. Prisoners of Power portrays a bewildered protagonist in a strange country clearly resembling Russia.

Such criticism brought the Strugatskys under censorship during the 1970’s. Many of their writings were published only in magazines or outside Russia; some were withheld for future publication. During this dark cycle, the brothers wrote The Snail on the Slope, a caricature of Soviet bureaucracy, The Ugly Swans (published in Germany), and Roadside Picnic, a dystopian depiction of a nation as a concentration camp which became the basis for Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Stalker. Banned in the Soviet Union, the film won a prize at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.

During the Soviet thaw in the 1980’s, the Strugatskys were awarded the prestigious Aelita Prize (1981) by the Union of Soviet Writers for Beetle in the Anthill. This work uses conventional science-fiction themes—alien encounters and the coming of supermen—to complete their future history series.

Three other Strugatsky books appeared in this period of glasnost. The protagonist of Grad obrechennyi (the doomed city) searches for salvation, progressing from blind faith in Communism through disillusionment to his final quasi-understanding of his moral, social, and spiritual responsibility. Khromaya sud’ba (crooked destiny) provides a fictional commentary on The Ugly Swans, a realistic portrayal of a Russian writer’s life under state control. Otyagoshchennye zlom (burdened by evil) deals with a search for some value system, perhaps even a religious one, to replace the political control in human lives.

One last play, Zhidy goroda Pitera (Yids of the city of Peter), was performed in Leningrad during the 1991 spring season. The underlying premise, the play’s fearful twist, is that despite Perestroika reforms, the country could suddenly revert to its old totalitarian methods. Within four months of the play’s publication, just such a political coup by old Communists was overcome in Moscow on August 19, 1991.

One final honor was awarded to the Strugatskys on August 28, 1990. The Soviet Academy of Science announced that the Smithsonian astrophysical observatory had confirmed the naming of minor planet 3054 as “Strugatskaia.”

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