Ed. Dejan Ajdačić & Bojan Jović

The Slavic Science Fiction

Institute for Literature and Art
Belgrade 2007
411 p.

ISBN 978-867095-131-0

Словенска научна фантастика
Зборник радова
Уредили Дејан Ајдачић и Бојан Јовић
Београд 2007
411 str.

 

Summaries

Bojan Jović (Serbia, Belgrade)

A Cure for Death – Death as a Cure

(About “The immortality holiday” by A. A. Bogdanov and “Athanatik” by Vladan Desnica)

The article compares the stories “The immortality holiday” by A. A. Bogdanov and “Athanatik” by Vladan Desnica. These stories are less known prose works of utopian/dystopian character by two writers: one is the first pioneer of science fiction in Russian literature (novels The Red Star, 1908; Engineer Meni, 1913) while the other’s name, in Serbian literature, stands for high intellectual prose as well as for depictions of local colour and the climate in inner Dalmatia.

“The immortality holiday” was published only once during Bogdanov’s lifetime, in 1914 (Богданов А. „Праздник бессмертия“// Летучие альманахи. Вып. XIV. СПб., 1914.), and was reprinted only in 1990, in the journal Уральский следопыт. Desnica’s story first appeared as a chapter of his most famous novel, The Springs of Ivan Galeb (1959); another, somewhat different version was preserved as a sketch for a novel.

Both Bogdanov and Desnica start out from the motif of a solution for the death problem and both pursue the theme of possible consequences of immortality for the human society as a whole. The manners in which they achieve this are in some respects similar, but vastly differ in others: Bogdanov’s vision is individualistic and essentially utopian; Desnica, however, develops a collective dystopian vision of various misuses and negative consequences of the medicine against death.

Bogdanov personalises the victor as the universal genius Fridje, who, exactly a thousand years ago, changed the immunity of the human organism which can, now, regenerate damaged tissue. That way he made it possible for humans to continue in bloom of eternal youth, fulfilling the ancient dream of alchemists, philosophers and poets. Fridje’s discovery has crucial consequences for the demographic picture – thanks to easy and swift air traffic, the population of Earth has forsaken the cities, which disappeared, and settled down in luxurious villas, among greenery and flowers. The increase of population has been solved by space colonisation. It turns out, however, that in Fridje, who has developed into a universal genius, endless existence causes boredom, which leads him to suicide.

Desnica’s discoverer of the ultimate medicine is anonymous; the medicine is produced from some ordinary material by a simple and cheap process. Again, its distribution and use lead to complete alteration of human relations and the downfall of social structures and the world order itself. Desnica’s collectivistic image also results in attempts to abolish the athanatik and to return the gift of mortality to mankind.

“The immortality holiday” is brought in context of Bogdanov’s novels, as well as his non-literary ideas; the immediate context of Desnica’s prose is represented by two other late works with similar themes – “Benta-lizard” (1955) and the unfinished novella “Mankind” (1972).

Besides the thematic viewpoint, “The immortality holiday” by A. A. Bogdanov and “Athanatik” by Vladan Desnica are considered from the genealogical standpoint, which demonstrates that unlike Bogdanov, who narrates in a classic, “serious” reflexive style, Desnica clearly belongs to the genres of seriously-comical, carnivalised literature, on the basis of his dialogical structure and the humoristic-satiric distance.

 

Darko Suvin (Montreal, Canada)

Reflections on What Remains of Zamyatin's We after the Change of Leviathans: Must Collectivism Be against People?

The meanings of Evgeniy Zamyatin's great dystopian novel We today seem to this critic significantly different from those he found 40 or 50 years ago. It becomes clear that any fictional text exists only in the interaction of the words on the page and the horizons of the reader. The essay therefore argues that an encompassing commentary on fictional writing is necessarily enlarged to include the presuppositions without which the text is not to be grasped. This seems obvious in the case of Science Fiction, where the signifier is always a transposition of the significations and signifieds of the author's sociohistorical moments. This is attempted by "braiding" sections that alternate between a/binternal analysis of the relationships within the text, and b/ clarification of radical changes in the life and ideology of Russia and the world between the State Leviathan dominant for the first three quarters of the 20th Century and the new corporate Leviathan that came to spell it from the mid-1970s (in Russian from the 1990s) on. Its general lineaments are analyzed in the wake of the anti-capitalist critiques such as Wallerstein's or Chossudovsky's, and its particular effects on Russia on the basis of the huge moral, political, and economic crash of the 90s. The new Leviathan is not more democratic but it is less fixated on a centralized State than Zamyatin's personalized nightmare. Its military and repressive function have however not at all weakened but expanded.

Zamyatin's approach is still understood, as before, as one of a heretically radical socialist, who rings post-romantic variations on the Biblical or Miltonic constellation by putting his Adam and Eve into the role of protagonists while the Power is the Antagonist. The tension between individualism and collectivism is in My oversimplified into a clash between bad collectivism and good individualism , represented by the heretical seductress I-330 and the conversion of the central figure, D-503. Further, the Miltonic power struggle is here differentiated into erotics vs. politics, with the political horizon being much less clearly focussed than the individualist erotic one.

While Zamyatin's text today shows some antiquated features, from the Symbolist prekrasnaya dama as Edenic Snake to the ambiguous ending, its powerful, "cubist" texture and rebellion against repression has weathered extremely well and remains one of the few classics not only of dystopia but of SF as a whole. Between his ancestors Dostoevsky and H.G. Wells, it has provided a template for much of the best SF after Zamyatin, beginning with the direct influence on Orwell 1984 but also analogous to some constellations in the later SF of Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, the Strugatsky Brothers, etc.

 

Marija Černjak (Russia, Sankt-Petersburg)

Science Fiction in Dispute with Socialist Realism: the Case of Vsevolod Ivanov

The text is devoted to the creative fate of the “composer gone deaf” – as Viktor Šklovskij called his fellow-writer Vsevolod Ivanov, whose selected works were continuously published, but whose significant novels Kremlin, U, fantastic stories etc, which he was very fond of, remained unpublished till the 1980s. Gravitating towards experimental prose, science fiction and the adventure novel, Ivanov was subject to an official literary trial during the Soviet era. The literary fate of this writer is a tragic example of the aesthetic and ideological dispute between socialist realism and science fiction and the adventure novel.

 

 

Wojciech Kajtoch (Poland, Kraków)

About the First Story of the Strugatsky Brothers

The idea for the story In the Country of Purple Clouds of the Strugatsky brothers appeared circa 1952. Boris and Arkadij Strugatsky found the incentive for writing their first science fictional work in their readerly displeasure with the level of science fiction of their times. The author outlines the social and literary circumstances of the Soviet era when, after the respected fantastic literature of Aleksandr Bogdanov, Aleksej Tolstoj, Aleksandr Beljaev and fantastic literature with anti-capitalist elements of Marijeta Šaginjan and Lazar Lagin, science fiction lost esteem as unrealistic prose and came close to popular science with elements of young adult-oriented adventure literature.

After a short plot depiction of the story In the Country of Purple Clouds, which starts with the summoning of young Bikov to a interplanetary mission, a voyage with the photon rocket “Hios” to Venus and mysterious events surrounding a mine with radioactive ore, “the Golconda of Uranus”, attention is called to those elements that keep the traits of Soviet science fiction (adventure, travel account) and to elements which diverge from contemporary schemes of Soviet science fiction – (conflict human vs. nature instead of conflict of the production forces, mentions of personal details from the hero’s life, mentions of hero’s fear, high artistry of the storytelling etc).

 

 

Aleksandra Korda-Petrović (Serbia, Belgrade)

Three Czech Robots (K.ČapekF.NovotniE.Bondi)

The vision of the robot as android which exists alongside with humans only as a helper or an enemy, to the robot capable to identify with humans, to the complete merging of man and robot in a computer perception of reality – that is the road travelled by robots in Czech science fiction, from Karel Čapek’s drama R.U.R to the novella Ramax by František Novotni, to the novel Cybercomic by Egon Bondi.

The robot is the mirror of man’s inner world, artificial intelligence trying to triumph over its maker (R.U.R), to identify with him (Ramax) or to re-establish him when he is already superseded (Cybercomic). That way, these three Czech robots travelled from man’s perfected technological product to a desire for the return to philosophical wisdom, which, in spite of everything, belongs only to the human race.

At the same time, on the basis of the approach to the theme of the robot phenomena, one can discern three phases in the development of Czech SF: K. Čapek has founded the genre, F. Novotni is a typical represent of the genre and Bondi belongs to a new, cyber dimension of Czech SF.

 

 

Andrzej Stoff (Poland, Toruń)

Technique and Technology As a Mirror for Man in Literary Works of Stanislaw Lem

The object of this article is to reconsider and investigate technical and technological subjects in Stanislaw Lem stories and novels. Its main thesis is that these subjects are of existential and philosophical importance – not only of literary value (as a problem of the author’s imagination and the composition of his work). Lem uses his technically oriented imagination to present questions and answers devoted to relations between humans and technical devices (particularly robots, computers, space-ships and all kinds of weapons) and social relations dominated by the advanced technology as well. These problems are presented with reference to Lem’s metaphor of the „mirror”, which in his novel Solaris denotes the situation of man in process of recognizing the reality: both the world and the Universe.

 

 

Dariusz Brzostek (Poland, Toruń)

Between prognostic and utopian visions. Science fiction as a cognitive, speculative fiction

The subject of this essay is the prognostic aspect of “the shape of things to come”, considered as one of the basic methods to construct the peculiarity in the worlds introduced in science fiction texts. It goes along with the cognitive aspiration to discern the future, which lies in the foundations of science fiction literature and is a continuation of eighteenth-century rationalism and nineteenth-century scientism, which also established a cognitive pattern of the scientific research as an ideological pattern of science fiction stories. Meanwhile, in visions of the world emerging from science fiction, narration often happens to be an exaggeration of the empirically accessible author’s present (its hopes and fears) or even a utopian vision of the future, determined by communist ideology, as it was in the early works of Stanislaw Lem. These ideological, utopian visions demarcate the limits of the cognitive, prognostic ambitions of science fiction stories, considered as speculative fiction based on the scientific patterns of knowledge.

 

 

Oksana V. Dryabina (Russia, Moscow)

The Role of VTO MPF (All-Union Creative Association of Young Science Fiction Writers) in the Subculture of Russian Science Fiction in the 1980s-90s.

The period from the beginning of the 1980s till the middle of the 1990s should be treated as a separate part in the development of Russian science fiction. The paper (as all other research works of the author) is based on unknown archive documents and introduces new facts. The research is devoted to the activity of VTO MPF (All-Union Creative Association of Young Science Fiction Writers), one of the first USSR non-governmental publishing houses which specialised in science fiction. The Association was not only a publishing house but also a literary school, a community of writers; it also contributed to the development of the modern Russian science fiction subculture. The author defines the role which the Association performed in the development of Russian science fiction in the last quarter of the 20th century. About 80% of the USSR science fiction writers were connected with the Association, thus the study of its documents may help to single out the characteristic features of the period in question.

 

 

Dmitrij Haritonov (Russia, Chelyabinsk)

The Functional Purpose of Fantastic Elements in the work of Vasilij Aksjonov

Traditionally, Vasilij Aksjonov is considered a classic of Soviet “neo-realism of the 1960s generation”. However, in his early texts the fantastic elements already have an important part in the construction of the plot. In the story Colleagues the fantastic appears in the motif of a miraculous discovery of healing powers. In the mainly realistic story The Train Ticket to the Stars about the brothers Denisov, the situation – the hero’s moral choice after a tragedy – brings to the fore the fantastic motif of the train ticket to the stars as a singular metaphysical phenomenon. In the story Morocco Oranges, set in the east, in the fairytale place Talij, oranges are a symbol that turns the place of human suffering into a place of joy and carefree delight. In the story Wild Pavel Zbajkov, whose life is full of exciting events, from the revolution to various camps to rehabilitation, returns to his native soil and meets Andrej, who has created a perpetuum mobile. In the story Halfway to the Moon the labourer Valera falls in love with a stewardess in an airplane, and she gains traits of a supernatural being.

The fantastic appears in other texts as well – The Overflowing Barrel, The Burn, The Caesarean Section (gothic fantastic), The Crimea Island (an alternative history about an imaginary Crimea outside the USSR and its return to the Soviet empire), at the end of The Caesarean Section (a fantastic vision of a dystopian future), and in the novel Moscow-ow-ow. In the work of Vasilij Aksjonov, the fantastic has different functions, but its uses are always innovative in the prose of this living classic of Russian literature.

 

 

Zorica Đergović-Joksimović (Serbia, Novi Sad)

Europe Number Two: New Serbian Utopia

This text deals with Vojislav Despotov’s novel Europe Number Two as a representative of the new type of utopia in Serbian literature. This work is viewed in a wider context of the development of Serbian utopia. It is clear that the main stages of development coincide with similar occurrences in world utopias, i.e. there is an interesting intertwining of real history and utopian literature, discernible not only in the creation of the Serbian utopia but in the utopias of other nations as well. In the central part of this text, the analysis is concentrated on the innovations Vojislav Despotov brought into Serbian literature with his work Europe Number Two. The two most important elements are the idea of utopia as a simulacrum and the European context this utopia is placed in. The geographical innovation is the latest stage in the development of Serbian utopia. Namely, a short overview indicates different utopian locations in Serbian literature, starting with the Christian paradise and the earthly paradise and continuing all the way to Yugoslavia as a possible utopian solution for the South Slavs. However, Despotov’s New Europe is not just a postmodern game with the geographical aspect of utopia. It is a provocative art project whose main object is to turn sad history events into an art performance and to create a better world that way. By concentrating on a problematic relationship of history and utopia, as well as geography (Topia) and simulacrum (Utopia), Despotov created a valuable literary opus which confronts us with many questions – artistic, philosophical, political and ethical.

 

 

Mykhayl Nazarenko (Ukraine, Kyiv)

The Gnostic Universe in the novel Vita nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko (Text and Context)

The paper deals with the novel Vita nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko. The semantic structure of the novel is considered in three contexts: (a) earlier works of Dyachenko, (b) Soviet and post-Soviet SF and (c) Gnostic and Neo-Platonic philosophy. The paper proves that Gnostic imagery and symbolism introduced into the novel was derived from two sources: the Soviet-SF tradition and the tradition of Russian classical literature, which accords with Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of genre memory.

 

 

Stefano Bartoni (Italia, Roma)

The role of Videogames in Russian Science Fiction

At the beginning of the 1990’s, when computer games at last came to Russia, personal computers did not actually exist in Russia. Indeed, only National Scientific Research Centres (NSRC) could afford to pay them and therefore young researchers were the only ones who could play new computer games: Sergej Luk’janenko describes this “addiction” in a very lively way, remembering his sleepless nights spent in front of a monitor.

Afterwards, a significant part of these young researchers became science fiction (SF) writers (Luk’janenko and Viktor Pelevin, among others, worked in NSRCs) and computer games still remain an important part of their lives and their works.

In their books these young writers created a deep, reciprocal relationship between plots and computer games: in some instances the computer game spawns the plot, in others the book spawns a new computer game. There are even more complicated circumstances: Sergej Luk’janenko’s cycle Line of Delirium is based on Master of Orion, a very popular computer game, but a new computer game is based on Luk’janenko’s novels.

In this article some works of two great SF Russian masters, Sergej Luk’janenko and Viktor Pelevin, are evaluated. Luk’janenko structures his works as computer games (Role Play Games above all), while Pelevin uses computer games in order to create a particular atmosphere, typical of his late works: in his long story Prince of Gosplan the Moscow writer takes to the extreme the traditional cyberpunk opposition between Real Hell and Virtual Paradise, an opposition in which reality completely loses its consistence.

In conclusion, computer games are a feature which gains and will gain more and more importance in SF literature

 

 

Tijana Tropin (Serbia, Belgrade)

The Stalker of Andrej Tarkovskij as an Adaptation of a Literary Science Fiction Work

This text deals with the science fiction aspect of Stalker and the manner in which the director and the scriptwriters, the Strugatsky brothers, arrived at the final film version. After an introductory survey of possible definitions of science fiction and the positioning of Stalker in relation to them, special attention is devoted to the most common problems of film adaptations of literary science fiction works and the solutions Tarkovskij and the Strugatsky brothers decided on, as well as the development stages of the script before the final film version, and the gradual removing of all explicitly SF elements (especially the visual ones).

 

 

Elena Kovtun (Russia, Moscow)

The Origin of Fantasy: Transformation of Russian Science Fiction Literature on the Verge of the 20th Century

The paper considers the evolution of science fiction prose in Russian literature of the last decades. The shift from the complete dominance of science fiction proper during the late period of socialism to the reign of fantasy in modern literary tradition is being analysed. The attempt is made to find out the sources and to trace the development of the Russian variant of fantasy during the second half of the 1980s – the first half of the 1990s on the basis of Russian literary tradition of the previous epochs.

 

 

Boris Lanin (Russia, Moscow)

Russian Anti-Utopia at the Threshold of the Centuries

Utopian and anti-utopian literature becomes popular and influential in Russia in the beginning of 21st century. They represent various scenarios of the social and political development before and after 2008 when the possible presidential election may probably happen in Russia. The works by Vladimir Sorokin, Dmitrii Bykov, Elena Chudinova, Sergei Dorenko, Andrei Volos, Khol’m Van Zaichik, Pavel Krusanov, and Egor Radov are in focus. The paper argues that nowadays anti-utopian writings are visual models of Russian images of future. Contemporary mass-culture becomes a skilful conductor of those ideas into the public spiritual life.

 

Dejan Ajdačić (Ukraine, Kyiv – Serbia, Belgrade)

Ideological projections in Slavic Science Fiction Literatures

The ideological views of science fiction writers emerge from their personal attitudes, personally transformed and adopted collective beliefs, in favour of or against a certain ideology. In the introduction of this text, the author points out the theoretical framework of his analysis and uses the notions of ideological commission, censorship, ideologeme, but also explicates the forms of ideology included in the literary text: thematisation, positioning, marking. Additional delineation of ideological projections, regarding the exemplary or flawed execution of ideological designs, or the impossibility of their identification, constitute the propagandist-utopian, critical anti-utopian and the deconcretized representations of ideologies with the erasure of their concrete traits.

The article refers to particular texts by Slavic genre masters in world science fiction literature, Evgenij Zamjatin, Stanislaw Lem, the Strugatsky brothers, Ivan Jefremov, but also to texts of writers renowned only within the borders of national literatures (Bulgarian Haim Oliver, Pavel Vežinov, Polish Andrzej Trepka, Krzysztof Boruń, Serbian Dragutin Ilić, Croatian Branko Belan, Ukrainian Jurij Bedzik, Vasilj Škljar, Russian Dmitrij Bilenkin, Genadij Gor, Georgij Martinov and others). The ideological projections of Slavic science fiction writers have been presented in the following segments: glorification of monarchism, glorification of communism, condemnation of fascism, condemnation of capitalism, condemnation of communism, deconcretization of ideologies and ideology in a post-ideological world

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