(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Strugatsky brothers are perhaps the most popular science-fiction writers to come from Russia, beloved for their ability to criticize the status quo under the guise of futuristic utopian or dystopian societies. In the mid-1960’s, after writing a number of conventional science-fiction works, they began to produce a series of satirical fantasy tales that have become their trademark. These dealt with political and ethical issues that were taboo in preperestroika Russia. Monday Begins on Saturday (1965), which started this cycle, was followed by The Second Invasion of Mars (1968) and Tale of the Troika (1968), among other works. The Snail on the Slope belongs to this group. Many readers consider it the Strugatskys’ finest achievement.

The two interlocked stories of The Snail on the Slope provide a brilliant satire of pre-perestroika Russian society, in which chaos and disorder, useless work, and meaningless directives made life unbearable, even for machines. Written in the best traditions of science fiction and fantasy, mixing dreams and reality as well as disrupting chronological and spatial unity, the novel uses parody, symbolism, irony, and black humor as its main weapons. The Directorate of the tale is a grotesque parody of the bureaucratic machine, with its idiotic laws and regulations, carried to absurd extremes, and its complete absence of any intelligent activity. The portrait of the...

(The entire section is 560 words.)