A Short History of Russian "Fantastica"/Part 2

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Part 1 and 2 appear in Australian science fiction periodical "The Mentor", Issue 79. (July 1993)

58985A Short History of Russian "Fantastica" — Part 2Andrei Lubensky

So, Russian fantasy passed under the banner of romanticism in the nineteenth century. Of course, there were works which still interest us in our time, because they contain a fair amount of scientific and technical pre-visions. Such works may be attributed to science fiction, as we understand it today. (For instance, in N. Shevlonski's IN THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE novel, 1892, was depicted a journey to the North Pole which was put into practice using a large vehicle). There were utopian and anti-utopian works, parodies and literary mysteries such as K. Sluchevski's CAPTAIN NEMO IN RUSSIA. This narrative was written and published in 1898 as an accidentally found work of Jules Verne. One of the main characters of this talented mystery was an Australian by the name of Mr. Tick Roy (Fich Roy) who decided to change the climate and to settle New Zealand island in the Russian North. The insensitive Australian built greenhouses there, which were surrounded by electric fences and wherein were grown palm trees and cacti. He utilized wind energy and even "the magnetic power of the northern lights", which aroused Captain Nemo's envy.

But little by little romanticism, which revealed a person's mystery and soul, moved aside, letting social research take its place. In 1907 the magazine THE IDEAL LIFE was released in St. Petersburg. The magazine aimed to make its readers acquainted "... with the more outstanding works of that kind of literature, which was interested mainly in the life of the future". The well known historian V. Bulgrov wrote "The Russian magazine differs much from Mr Gernsback's WONDER STORIES, which valued "... a special bewitching type of a novel which included some science facts and daring pre -visions.." very highly. Only the feasibility of the principle inventions in engineering and science interested the father of American fantasy. But it was not the technology of hypothetical tomorrows that was most interesting to those in Russia, which was torn by the storms of revolution.[1]

The publishers of the Russian magazine especially marked out utopias, i.e. the social not the technical aspect of the future which must be the main part of literature "interested in the life of the future". Hence one can understand the name of the Russian magazine".[2]

In 1908 A. Bogdanov's socialist utopia, THE RED STAR, was published. In that utopia "...the sanguineous, energetic and boiling communist world was depicted".[3] A. Bogdanov wrote yet another two utopias, ENGINEER MANN (1913) and THE HOLIDAY OF IMMORTALITY (1914), in which, as V. Bugrov noted, "was visible the indecision interpreting the Proletarian Revolution. (At first they must raise the culture of the Russian Proletariat to a proper level and then lead them in the struggle).[4] V. Lenin who, as we know, carried his utopia into effect without any preliminary rising of proletarian culture, criticized A. Bogdanov harshly.

Russia buzzed with excitement; its literature buzzed with excitement.

In 1914 the First World War descended. The bloody XX Century came into its own. In that year, a writer Y. Perelman introduced the term "science fiction" for the first time in Russia. But one year before that event (1n 1913), A. Ossendovski's narrative THE SHIP HORROR, which used the genre's background extensively, was published. The plot of the novel is very simple. Some scientists bred a new species of gigantic fungus, which was called "Plasmody". The fungus reproduced quickly and it also heated the soil. It seemed all was well, but the plasmody went out of control because the scientist Yacov Silin, who dreamed of controlling the whole world, infected the ocean with the fungus. The fungus annihilated fish and even fishing boats. The scientists were forced to struggle against their own creation. "A fantastic story about a gigantic fungus which was created for the public weal, but suddenly was changed into a colossal disaster, and rings true for contemporary readers", wrote V. Bulgrov , "and in our own time this "suddenly" repeats too frequently. Remember: common to all mankind is the basis of the struggle against fascism and the monstrous mushroom over Hiroshima... genetics' colossal progress and biological weapons... men's journey to the Moon and a finger lying on the firing button of a ballistic missile... "[5]

In 1914 A. Ossendovski published the novel THE APPROACHING STRUGGLE in which he foretold of the rise of technology and its bankruptcy because technology could not ensure mankind's happiness. In 1922 A. Ossendovski settled down in Poland and wrote many books in both English and Polish, but his first fantastic novels were written in Russia.

The year 1917 divides Russia's history into two parts, which are "before the Revolution" and "after the Revolution". From 1917 we speak of Soviet fantasy, and the first Soviet writer was V. Itin, who wrote a novel THE GONGURI COUNTRY. V. Itin was born in 1894 in Ufa city. He studied jurisprudence at Petersburg University, but the Revolution changed a lawyer into a commissar. V. Itin was in the war with Kolchak; in 1920 he joined the Bolshevik party and after the Civil War was finished he settled in the Siberian town of Kansk, where he was the editor of a local newspaper and a Disciplinary Court chairman. In Kansk he wrote the novel THE GONGURI COUNTRY which was published in 1922. The book was printed "by faded type on rough paper which formally had been used for wrapping sugar-lumps and it was bound in board because of a shortage of paper" .[6] V. Itin depicted a future life which was without war and crime. The well-known researcher A. Britikov wrote of THE GONGURI COUNTRY in his major work THE RUSSIAN SOVIET SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL: "There are optimistic and new (for that time) natural science surmises in the story. The story plot depicted the way to the future as a long and hard struggle against class enemies and also against the barbarity of people that must travel this road. V. Itin thought that communism would be built by the "laws of the heart".

In 1924 Mrs. Marietta Shaginyan published a novel MESS MEND or YANKEES IN PETERSBURG and hid under the pen-name "Tim Dollar". In the novel are described the adventures of an American inventor's son in Russia. The authors of the novel ATLANTIDA UNDER WATER (1927) O. Savich and V. Piotrovski also hid themselves under the penname Rene Cadu. The heroes of this novel set out to search for a world which, so they believed, did not exist (the expedition worked for its image - it was created for advertising) and suddenly they discovered a real universe, Atlantida. There were other novels by "foreigners" and a special term "the spurious novel" came into use. V. Bugrov attributed it to such novels and also to a novel THE NEW LIFE VALLEY (1928) which was written by Teo Elli. Of course, it was a penname. The author's real name was F. Ilyin, who was a scientist from Bakul. THE NEW LIFE VALLEY was really "an exclusion from the spurious novels of the twentieth C", wrote V. Bugrov, "because F. Ilyin sought shelter under a pen-name not wishing to mystify anybody. He simply followed an old tradition which existed among scientists.[7] Another spurious novel BLEF (THE BLUFF) (1928) told of a practical joke. An American journalist group, for the purpose of increasing the circulation of their newspaper, impersonates Martians arrival on Earth and write reports about the event. But the practical joke backfired. It was written that the author of this novel was a certain Ris Whilki Li and the well-known Soviet writer A. Tolstoi in the preface wrote of his meeting and conversation with that mythical American. (The real author of the novel was B. Lipatov.)

The true pearl of fantasy is A. Tolstoy's novel AELITA. The novel was first published in the magazine KRASNAYA NOV (THE NEW RED) in #6 (1922) and in #2 (1923), and is subtitled THE DECLINE OF MARS. As was written in a commentary to the third volume of A. Tolstoy's collected works, "AELITA is a science fiction novel in which the topic of interplanetary flight combines with social and political problems. Describing life on Mars and the Martian society, it shows the stormy revolt of the oppressed inhabitants of the planet and the hesitation of their leader, Mr. Gor. The writer, thus disguised, entered into a controversy with H. G. Well's social theories, with Spengler's advocacy of the "Decline of Europe", and several other bourgeois theories. It showed the Martian Mr. Tuskuba, who wanted a civilization for certain selected persons. A. Tolstoi exposed Mr. Tuskuba's anti-populist views and his traits common with fascist ideology" (p.708).

The heroes of the novel,[8] (Mr. Gusev and Mr Los) arrived on Mars where a Martian woman by the name of Aelita told them about the history of Mars: In time immemorial a fierce tribe of Magacites moved to Mars from the Earth. When Gusev and Los arrived on Mars there was a civilization for "selected" persons on the planet. The civilization was slowly declining, and the newcomers actively intervened in its current events. An interesting subject is the combination of exercises into the history of Mars and the Earth with A.Tolstoy's talent, which did its part and the novel was a bestseller for decades in the Soviet Union.

In 1924 the producer Ya. Protazanov filmed the novel. The major SF award in Russia is named in honor of AELITA. Another of A. Tolstoy's science fiction novels is ENGINEER GARIN'S HYPERBOLOID (1926-1927)[9] which was also a great success. In addition A. Tolstoy wrote an SF play THE REVOLT OF THE MACHINES and a story THE FIVE PERSON'S ALLIANCE in which he cautioned against the danger of using the achievements of science and engineering to seize power. The author pre-supposed that American capitalists pursued such an object. In the Twentieth Century SF novels and stories by such famous literary artists as M. Bulgakov, Vs. Ivanov, V. Kataev and N. Aseev appeared. "The Revolution swept away the old capitalist world. The new socialist world was only just conceived and it was the natural course of things that young Soviet writers wanted on the one hand to settle accounts with the world of capitalism, to show all its insolvency and, on the other hand, to represent in full measure the joyous world of the future" wrote V. Bugrov in the book THE QUEST FOR TOMORROW.

And nobody knew what real socialism would bring and how many human lives it would annihilate. But it appears that belief in a glowing future, in social and engineering progress was a sincere belief.


  1. V. Bugrov means the first Russian revolution of 1905-1907.
  2. V. Bugrov, THE QUEST FOR TOMORROW, Sverdlovsk, 1981.
  3. V. Bugrov, Ibid, p.124
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid p.127
  6. V. Samsonov, "The first Soviet fantasy writer" in the book THE GONGURI COUNTRY, Krasnoyarsk, 1985, p.62.
  7. Ibid p.140
  8. A. Tolstoy's fantasy was founded on K. Tsiolkovski's work "The exploration of outer space with jet devices" which was published in 1903.
  9. The Hyperboloid was a device which concentrated light into a narrow ray. It was an SF prototype of the laser.

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