Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Snail on the Slope was published at the end of the mid-1960’s “thaw” in Soviet intellectual life and was made possible by the Strugatskys’ successful careers as writers of such science-fiction stories as are collected in Putna Amalteiu (1960; Destination Amalthea, 1962). Set in the near future on a planet that resembles their home country more than anything else, The Snail on the Slope falls into the science-fiction category of the thinly disguised cautionary tale and thus continues the tradition founded in Russia by Yevgeny Zamyatin, whose novel My (1952, written 1920-1921; We, 1924) was never published in the U.S.S.R., although it is well-known there. Similarly, Kandid’s and Pepper’s stories first were published separately, and the only complete Russian edition of The Snail on the Slope was published in the Estonian Republic in 1972.

The Snail on the Slope combines caustic satire, wonderful humor, and fascination with the alien landscape around a carefully eked-out gray bloc of bureaucratic “normalcy.” The Strugatskys’ novel is powerful because it mercilessly points out human error and arrogance, while, on the other hand, it never loses touch with its unfortunate, obstinate subjects. There is some small hope left that people such as Acey and the villagers will survive despite all attempts to eradicate them, yet bitterness is not diluted in The Snail on the Slope’s survey of human scientific achievement. Bureaucrats and technocrats will continue to fail when their work is not coupled with idealistic heroism, but instead gives in to the human predilection for pettiness and the desire to overregulate and suffocate genuine understanding.