I'm trying to remember the title of a Russian novel which smelled like early Communist propaganda but whose plot was actually very sci-fi for the time period. It was probably written in the late 19th century or early 20th.

Sci-fi elements The most futuristic element in it was the invention and (failed) usage of a massive cannon that could shoot beyond the horizon. The cannon could fire high-tech "cold" explosive decompression shells that would instantly freeze an entire area, silently killing all in its "blast." Otherwise, its tech level is that of late industrial era - people recognize that factories are unhealthy to live near or work in, but factories are still the most important engine of the economy.

Plot synopsis

An absurdly wealthy man dies with only one very distant relative known. But the executor finds a man who turns out to be his actual child (I think illegitimate.) The previous heir sues and the actual heir agrees to give him half to just get it out of the way. The two men set up opposing cities, one a wealthy, industrial dictatorship and the other an enlightened, natural commune. Both cities flourish initially, although the living conditions of the commune are vastly superior to the industrial city. Hostilities grow between the two cities, almost leading to open conflict before the industrial city (I want to say it was named something super boring, like Steelville) suddenly ceases to operate. A man from the commune infiltrates and investigates (the investigation may have started prior to the industrial city's collapse,) eventually discovering that the industrial city had been preparing to attack the commune. But the doomsday cold bomb cannon had suffered an accident, killing the man in charge. The man had taken the reins so tightly in hand that the industrial city collapsed without him issuing orders, and the communists live happily ever after.

Side Details: The evil heir in charge of the industrial city had two particularly vicious henchmen that the heroic communistic spy had to fight. The industrial city is heavily compared to Germany and the commune is heavily compared to France throughout, with France usually being considered superior (this is why I think it may be pre-WWI.)

Age of the book: I read it less than ten years ago, but it was really, really old. The book felt like it was printed before World War II.

1 Answer 1


That seems to be Les Cinq Cents Millions de la Bégum from Jules Verne.

In Jules Verne's story, a princess from India dies and her 500 million are given to a French doctor and a German professor. The Frenchman builds a city with modern standards, and the German builds a city with huge steel production and cannons.

As described in the question, the German produces ammunition to kill everyone with gas. And then in the end the German gets killed and his city collapses, because he was the one to give orders for everything.

The two cities, the cannon, the infiltration, it's all there. The English title is The Begum's Fortune.

  • 3
    Hi, welcome to SF&F! This does indeed seem to be a likely answer, but you should explain why it matches instead of just giving the name of the story.
    – DavidW
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 16:59
  • 3
    I added some explanantions. But it's not easy to give an english description to a french novel I read thirty years ago in german.
    – mayamar
    Commented Feb 8, 2021 at 17:26
  • @mayamar This is definitely the story, 100% certain. And if it makes the situation more funny, I'm a native English speaker and I read the story in Russian.
    – Jeutnarg
    Commented Feb 9, 2021 at 17:29

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