27

It's commonly said that Anglo-Saxon SF writers failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states — quickly, with little violence, and without Western intervention.

What was the perception of from the other side? Are there any notable trends in science fiction from the Communist bloc (Russia, Eastern Europe, China, etc.) regarding its future (how long it would last, how it would evolve or end, etc.)?

Obviously prediction is easy after the fact, so only works written before 1989 are relevant. Given the strong censorship, it would be especially interesting to consider works written but not published before 1989, or works published by emigrants.

Note that I'm interested in general trends, not that there's one particular work that got it right (or amusingly wrong). So please don't reply with a list of works — analysis is what I'm after.

  • 3
    Considering the fact that I was born and lived in Poland for almost 22 years I have to say that this is very interesting topic to me. I have to mention couple of names that stand out especially in Poland, Jacek Kaczmarski, a poet who lived Australia so he can have the freedom of speech. Other name is of a Russian poet Bulat Okudzhava that has been on the Communists case. Other works have been released but those had double tone due to censorship. – Darius Feb 18 '11 at 20:30
  • 5
    How is this SF? – Rodger Cooley Feb 18 '11 at 20:58
  • 5
    @Rodger: I'm interested in trends in fiction written in the 1920s–1989 period in the Communist bloc that depicts a possible future. Fiction that depicts the future is usually considered science fiction. (Maybe that I'm looking for trends in fiction was unclear? I thought it would be obvious, precisely given that this site is about SF.) – user56 Feb 18 '11 at 21:01
  • 3
    @Giles: I see your somewhat snarky point, but it seems like this would be more like a futurist poly-sci question. The first paragraph I would probably concede, but then you asked more generally about fiction and general trends... which is why I asked "How is this SF?" If you meant how did SciFi depict the future of the Soviet Union from within that block at that time, then I withdraw the question... but it wasn't clear to me. – Rodger Cooley Feb 19 '11 at 1:34
  • 3
    @Gilles: Sure. It's hard to put intonation into text. Sorry for my misinterpretation. I still think the question isn't really SF, ultimately, but it IS interesting. – Rodger Cooley Feb 19 '11 at 16:31
11

You should check out books by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Russian SF writers. Most of their books were written in the 60's and 70's, and some in the 80's. Many good ones sat on a shelf for decades, before they could be published. Several of their books have been translated into English. They are not so much about the fall of the USSR, since virtually nobody could have foreseen that, but they offer good insights into the daily life and the mindset of the Soviet people.

They do describe a number of possible futures in their books. One series takes place in the "Noon Universe", where the people of Earth live in a Communist-like society or Star-trek like society, where poverty is eliminated, and people strive to better themselves, and to be useful. However, in those books they sometimes describe Orwellian societies of other planets (somehow also populated by humans), which are eerily similar to the realities of life in the USSR. See Prisoners of Power, aka "The Inhabited Island", and Hard to be a god.

Edit:

Since you are already familiar with the Strugatsky brothers, you should check out Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voynovich. This is a satirical book about a possible future in 2042. The Soviet system was based on the idea of "building Socialism in a single country", which replaced the notion of the "world revolution", prevalent at the turn of the 20th century. "Moscow 2042" takes that to the extreme, and describes "Communism in a single city". Communism, of course, means "from each according to one's ability, to each according to one's needs". The catch is that one's needs are determined by the powers that be, and there are a number of "levels of needs". The book is hilarious, especially if you can read it in Russian. It is also a not-so-subtle jab at Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

  • Thank you, but the Strugatsky brothers happen to be the only Russian SF writers I've read, and like you I don't know that they've touched on the topic I'm asking about. – user56 Feb 18 '11 at 22:42
  • 1
    @Gilles: The Strugatsky brothers' Roadside Picnic doesn't exactly describe a socialist/communist society - to say the least. So it could be considered a valid answer to your question. – sbi Feb 20 '11 at 13:37
  • 2
    @sci - Picnic takes place in the West, if I recall correctly (technically, IIRC there were 6 "Zones" of contacts, and the one specific one the book's events revolve around is in the West). And the time is near future, with pretty much the same Socialist East/Capitalist West breakdown as real world. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 28 '11 at 4:34
  • 1
    @DVK - true, "Picnic" takes place in the West. But it is not the real West. It is, on the one hand, the West as imagined by the Soviet people, who only know about it from the official propaganda and a few westerns. On the other hand, the feeling of loneliness and hopelessness that permeates "Picnic" has striking parallels to the actual life in the USSR. – Dima Feb 28 '11 at 15:11
  • 1
    @DVK, you are absolutely right. I think the book that did come close to describing the post-soviet Russia is "The Inhabited Island". Of course, it also describes the USSR. – Dima Feb 28 '11 at 21:31
6

What most likely one would expect to see is books similar in nature to Moon series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, where an author leaves room for a reader’s imagination to do the work. Some people say that Apostezjon Trilogy by Edmund Wnuk- Lipinski portrays the most common anti-communism trend. And then there is also Limes Inferior by Janusz Zajdel, a novel on how would a system resulting from a mix or convergence of the main systems then competing - communism and capitalism - look like.

  • 3
    In the case of the Strugatsky brothers, the praise of Communism was not so much a government influence, it was simply the only way to get their books published. If you have read "The Inhabited Island" or "The Doomed City", then you should know what they had really thought of the Soviet system. – Dima Feb 18 '11 at 23:14
  • 1
    And it is not true at all that they fell of the shelves in 1989. At least not in the USSR. On the contrary, their popularity soared, when censorship was lifted, and all the manuscripts that they had in their desk drawers were finally published. – Dima Feb 18 '11 at 23:18
  • I based my answer on what I read about the books rather then reading them so I must have misinterpreted someone else's words. – Darius Feb 18 '11 at 23:20
  • And since you have provided additional info about Strugatsky brothers I have removed my subjective comment about them and their work. And I don't like to repeat other answers. – Darius Feb 18 '11 at 23:23
  • 1
    in that case, I highly recommend their books. Not their early novels from the 50's, though. Those indeed do fit the description you've read. – Dima Feb 18 '11 at 23:26
-3

NON SCI-FI REALTED PART: If you want a little bit of "non-scifi" analysis from a former citizen of Czechoslovakia, here it is. After Leonid Brezhnev death the western countries and "insiders" in USSR like Gorbachev etc. decided to make a tranition of communist block to capitalist block, however nobody from ordinary people know about that, but what everybody saw was that more and more stupid people was added to the leading positions. It is a standard strategy if you want to make people hate their leaders to put there idiots etc. To be honest I didn't think that in 1989 the socialism will end. but after a couple of days we were sure that something will happen. Btw. it was orchestrated by western countries and "insiders" and in the end also the communist party of Czechoslovakia wanted a smooth tradition to capitalism etc.

SCI-FI RELATED PART (to some degree ;):. In former Czechoslovakia in the 80's there was a popular magazine for teenagers called ABC and there were also a sci-fi/other stories and comix specials with different stories (and interesting even now), but no stuff about the collapse of Soviet block was tolerated. So, there were basically no anti-government stories, because there was no way to publish your stories except the state owned publishers. Btw. sci-fi in the Soviet block was more like Star Trek clones, where everybody is helping the society. Individualism was seen as selfish. Collectivism was seen as the better way of enriching the humankind. E.g. check this movies for children from 1978 ;D http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBAqHh55744 or this very good movie from 1955 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOIZesiXmq0 (trailer in English http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg-cObCfC9g ). To make a wrap up, even if somebody write something against the "communism" or to be more correct socialism it wasn't published. Btw. socialism and communism is far more closer to sci-fi like Star Trek then capitalism is. I have heard one radio session or something with Gene Roddenberry and he told that they the TV series was accused by TV owners of too "communist" etc. ;) I guess it's maybe hard to understand for "western" sci-fi fans that stuff like Terminator wasn't possible to write/make a movie in Socialist country. It's important to know that if there were no private corporations (like in capitalism), there was no enemy. The plots was almost always about exploration, helping less developed civilizations on other planets etc. No wars or fighting except a few exceptions of course. I'm missing the more human times a little though. This capitalist regime is maybe better for faster development of technology etc. but it is much colder, cruel and non-human. Btw. did you know that in Czechoslovakia there were no homeless people. They begin to appear after 1990 because people started loosing jobs as a result of privatisation or should I say the wild wild east speculations. In USSR it was a little different though and harder then in the middle European communist countries. But I am talking about politics too much ;). Anyway, there were no officialy published anti-regime literature, movies etc. Maybe in Hungary or Yugoslavia to some extent yes, but the only TV sci-fi children series from Hungary that I know is this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8E95P1VCtk so I am not sure if it was more soft there. But I asssume that at least a little softer it could be for authors to publish "contoversial" novels. Btw. sci-fi was not very respected genre in communism to some degree. Real stories (Socialist realism ;), comedies or ww2 based movies were more important and required by the regime than sci-fi. However, sc=fi was not banned at all.

Btw. I don't like capitalism. For somebody who had lived in socialism, capitalism looks like feudalism on steroids with incredible lying tactics (Even Stalin was just a little worm when compared with nowadays professional liars ;) ). I mean, now you have corporations that fight with each other (in principle the same like Kings 800 years ago ;) and instead of armies they use much sophisticated weapons like money, patents, media, pharmacy etc ;))

  • 2
    +1 for the relevant background information on sci-fi within the Soviet block. -2 for including a completely off-topic and irrelevant socio-political commentary. – Beofett May 8 '13 at 12:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy