Here are seven book reviews of Russian SF that appeared in the OSFS
STATEMENT. The first one is especially interesting, as it dates
from before the "openness" that included a lively contact between SF
readers on both sides of the old Cold War. Part of that contact was
the book trade between Ottawa and Kiev. Over a period of several
years quite a few books were traded. As the only Russian reading
member of OSFS, Michael McKenny eagerly read what Alexander and
Boris sent. BARDIC RUNES, published by Michael McKenny, was likely
the first place in the West where recent Russian language fantasy
appeared in English. And, Michael McKenny was one of two Westerners
first to attend the Ukrainian SF convention. His Con report ought
to be posted separately in this section, if it is not already up.
(The above was written on July 6, 2002 CE; dates for each item below
are provided with the item.)
DESTINATION AMALTHEIA (OSFS STATEMENT 107, May 1986)
Both Lionel Wagner, editor of our O.S.F.S. Statement, and Garth
Spencer of Canadian fandom's national newsletter, Maple Leaf Rag,
are very concerned to see increased the amount of actual news in the
pages of this publication.
One of the original creators (if I may use the term) and common
identifiable elements of fen was the devouring of fascinating
speculative fiction. What follows therefore would be considered a
major item of Ottawa fannish news.
Since the appearance of the last OSFS Statement Graham Darling
located in a second hand bookstore a fragile copy of a book
published in English by the Foreign Languages Publishing House in
Moscow c. 1960. It contains in 420 pages seven works including the
short Strugatskys' novel "Destination Amaltheia", the title work of
The tales are mostly great typical 50s stuff (if I may so describe
stories with bold heroic engineering types unravelling the mysteries
of a lost Arctic expedition with the aid of a chronoscope,
calculating an escape from the deadly pull of Jupiter or, figuring
out how to overcome an ex-Nazi torturer and his sinister artificial
stimulation of the brain etc.) which have become rarer these days
with the diversification of SF readers.
An outstanding exception, for me, was the poetic "Flying Flowers" by
Mikhail Vasilyev with its delightful blending of legend and science,
of fact and romance and its theme that a broad range of interests
may be better than exclusive specialization and interesting field
work preferable to promotion at head office.
There are a few delightful indications of the translator's at least
partial independence from English language SF. There is for example
anti-substance (anti-matter perhaps). We find reference to an astral
trip (when not an out of body but an interstellar flight seems
indicated), And for our prosaic Space Academy we are offered here
the High School of Cosmogation. The High School of Cosmogation, I
Many thanks to Graham, who trusted me with this rare book in such
poor condition even before reading it himself. Michael McKenny
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, mentioned as the authors of the title
story of the collection reviewed above, are today considered the
leading science-fiction writers in the Soviet Union. DAW Books has
published at least three volumes in translation of their work. Of
these perhaps the most moving is "Hard to be a God". At least two
other novels have been brought out by Collier in their Best of
Soviet SF series and Pocket Books in one volume offer a sixth and
seventh novel -- one of these being "Roadside Picnic" which takes
place in Newfoundland, Canada of all places.
VLADIMIR SHCHBERBAKOV (OSFS STATEMENT 170, August 1991)
One of the interesting writers, whose works I've received from
Alexander Vasilkovsky, is the Moscow author Vladimir Shcherbakov. I
have joyfully read his novel CHASHA BOOR (A Cup of Storms) and two
novellas of some 60-70 pages each: THE SWORD OF KING ARTHUR and
The ancients were aware that in literature there is form (how we say
something) and content (what it is that we say). Shcherbakov is of
interest for both. He skillfully uses suspense, mystery and
description. Yet, the most noticeable aspect of the form of his
stories is his lengthy quotations of such written material as the
letters, diaries and reports of his characters. A CUP OF STORMS
begins with the 30 pages of letters and diary recollections, which
lead the hero to the realization, that his mysterious father came
from further away than Siberia, and it really is his sister, who has
come to Earth on a followup mission. THE SWORD OF KING ARTHUR is
largely composed of letters, written at the time the Germans were
trying to acquire the extraordinary weapon, for use in the Second
World War, and later in the '80s, as we are presented with further
consideration of the source of this artifact of a super-civilized
His third story, which concerns the crash of a B-52 bomber, is
largely told in a style of factual detail. There are character
sketches of each of the crew, which read like this investigation is
coming from the files of military intelligence. The accident and the
consequent operation to locate and retrieve the bombs is described
with that exactitude of chronology, of velocity, of distance etc.
that one would expect from the Pentagon. This method of telling a
story is well designed to foster suspension of disbelief. One need
only look at a story such as THE CALL OF CTHULHU by H.P. Lovecraft
to see an incredible story coming in the form of official sounding
What is it that is being conveyed in this credulity creating way?
Well, I think CUP OF STORMS is an excellent suspense story, which
conveys somehow both nostalgia for one's youth and a good feeling
for the geographical extent of the Soviet Union. The story takes
place in a number of sites in the world's largest country, and one
of the most striking passages is the hero's flight across the land
from east to west in "The longest night of my life".
However, the science-fiction element is his use of what we would
call New Age Occultism. It is the introduction of flying saucers and
the lost civilization of Atlantis and the pre-historic and
extra-terrestrial Etruscans. The author even presents the theory
(of course in the form of a notebook of a scholar) that the
Etruscans were Russians, and many words are quoted to prove the fact
that the two languages are the same.
Occultists and others have long used the similar sounds of words to
arrive at interesting conclusions. The SF club in Kiev may not have
heard the theory that the rivers DANeister, DANeiper and DANube are
so called because this was the route that the lost tribe of Dan from
the Bible took towards its new homeland of DANmark. To which I
reply, that it's then quite evident the Canadians are descended from
I will try to have more to say on this interesting writer in a
future issue of THE STATEMENT.
AND MAN CREATED SYHOM (OSFS STATEMENT 173, November 1991)
Dneipro Publishers, Kiev, 1991.
Igor Rosokhovatski, a leading writer of Ukraine, has given us a most
remarkable book. His eight stories, short and long, are wonderfully
written, complex considerations of Homo Syntheticus, the next step
in the evolution of intelligent life on this planet, our offspring,
so to speak.
I cannot comment on the language of the original, as I read a
translation, whose very existence testifies to the highly literate
and most impressive linguistic accomplishments of our fellow SF
enthusiasts in Ukraine. Who here can imagine the possibility of
publishing a Russian language fanzine, let alone a most credible
translation of a work of great literature?
Rosokhovatski, because he is dealing with entities similar to
cyborgs and robots can be compared to Isaac Asimov. However, with
all due respect to one of the most prolific writers of our time,
Doctor Asimov has given us the three laws of robotics, and other
writers have produced great literature. Rosokhovatski has written
entertaining stories about Syhoms and given us work worthy of
One of his appealing techniques is an apparent meandering, wandering
off on tagents, only to show that it is no excursus, but another
very related component of his consideration of leadership, of
compassion, of interference in human society, of self discovery etc.
I love his virtuoso performance in a continuous blending of
different variations of the same theme. Take THE LAWS OF LEADERSHIP
at about 115 pages, a short novel. Here the protagonist is a
geneticist attempting to alter the chromosomes of cows, sheep and
chimpanzees. As the complex story evolves with the murder of the
director of his institute of 1500 scientists and research
assistants, with the power struggles and the personality clashes and
the character deficiencies of those who can't fill the great man's
shoes, and hastle our hero, because of his refusal to fake results,
we see the alarming side effect of his otherwise successful work, a
very high degree of agression. The super cows grow horns and kill
each other over which one is to be milked first. And, of course,
this whole tale of office politics and the cunning dissembling of
the super chimp, pretending to be of just less than normal
intelligence, as it kills off its rivals, chimp and human, is about
the leadership and intelligence of the character, introduced late in
the story, the Syhom.
Take the theme of parents and offspring. It runs through all the
stories. At times it is very touching, as when the little girl tells
the wonderful stranger that her father, who died three years ago,
failed to keep his promise to return, and the Syhom says, "I have
kept that promise". The Syhom has been given her father's
The Syhoms, endued with individual or multiple personalities, often
come in contact with people close to the original, the parents and
offspring. And underlying this emotional theme of close personal
relationships is the same thing in the broader sense of the
wonderful descendants of humanity, as a whole.
I have only hinted at the complexity and thoughtful enjoyment to be
found in these well written stories. We see Syhoms saving a wrecked
space man, assisting aborigines, confronting mad scientists and
gangs in the jungle, grappling with sharks and seeking the monsters
near an underwater city etc... And most of all, we see the self
analysis, the self discovery, the self development and ethical
realization that makes this reader, at least, proud of this
offspring of humanity, and delighted with the writer who created
CAPTAIN ULDAMIR, Part two (OSFS STATEMENT 176, February 1992)
There is a sequel to MY BROTHER'S KEEPER by Vladimir Mikhailov. They
were both published in a 1990 edition called CAPTAIN ULDAMIR. In the
second half of this 650 page book, the minds of some of the heroes
are sent, by a Guardian of Light, into the bodies os significant
people on a planet about to begin an atomic war with a colony. There
is some interesting depiction of the society (or societies) which
have deteriorated due to the lengthy confrontation of the two worlds.
There is some fascinating blending of the thought of people on the
planet, of the Terran agents, if you will, and of the Guardian and
One aspect, typical of SF and enjoyable nonetheless, is the
pondering by the supercomputer of such things as emotions and love
and his relationship with the enemy supercomputer, and just why is
"he" referred to as "he" and the enemy one as "she"? Here are
suspense, romance, hard science, a clearly conveyed impression of
the uselessness of war, and the peaceful and grand design of the
universe and its Guardian of Light -- in all a good straight SF
story. I preferred the first half of CAPTAIN ULDAMIR, but the whole
book is well worth reading.
RIDERS FROM NOWHERE (OSFS STATEMENT 178, April 1992)
Alexander and Sergei Abramov
This is one of the books, I believe, which Lloyd Penney mentioned
was being sold by Moscow fans at Worldcon. It is in the series of
English language translations published by Raduga.
The story starts in Antarctica where a Soviet expedition encounters
a strange pink cloud, evidence aliens are making off with Antarctic
ice, and then perfect duplicates of humans.
This is only the beginning of a remarkable novel filled with
suspense and the thrill of watching this incredible attempt of the
aliens to establish peaceful communications with our evidently quite
different species. It was great reading how the voices of wisdom
(including that of the brilliant scientist Boris Arkadyvich Zernov,
whose first two names are surely a tribute to the Strugatski
brothers) overcome the advocates of violence.
This is a great science-fiction story, a wonderful puzzle of what
the aliens could be up to. A very pleasurable read.
Another English language book Alexander sent, which Kevin has been
enjoying me read to him, is an exciting historical novel MYKHAILYK
THE COSSACK ORDERLY by Maria Pryhara.
THE FIRST SEAL (OSFS STATEMENT 187, January 1993)
This is a post Holocaust story which appeared in December 1991. For
me, it has an enjoyable mix of action, mystery, Fantasy and Science
Fiction. It begins with a tribe in a wasteland being forced to
decide what to do about its failing well. The Wizard, who, wonder
of wonders, can read, after a fashion, reveals that the black stump
left by the ancients is actually a means of travelling very fast. It
turns out to be a teleportation device and the small scouting party
sent out to look for more water encounters more than even the Wizard
imagined with his stories of old seas. They run into people from
space and we enter a more complex story than a tribe of primitives
looking for another source of water.
Here is unfolded the system of the five worlds, and for a while we
follow the action on the Fourth world as a group of youth take the
test to become adults and, when something goes wrong, there is a
quest to find the Father of Wizards.
This is a very pleasant read with its sword fighting, computers,
magic, ray guns, ancient legends, scientific exploration, and even
the Biblical image which provides the title.
THE LAST WAR (OSFS STATEMENT 190, April 1993)
An expedition is sent by the Galactic Federation on a grim mission.
A recent nuclear war has been detected on a primitive planet (said
war being proof the planet, which is not a member of the Federation,
is primitive). The expedition is composed largely of members of a
species new to the Federation, a species which narrowly managed to
avoid its own nuclear annihalation, achieve world peace (i.e. become
civilized) and join galactic society. When we wonder why we've been
assigned this mission, we're shown pictures of the aliens whose
planet we're about to explore, aliens who look almost like us,
except for little things like having four fingers instead of five.
There are also two people on board the ship from another galactic
species, a species which has made a remarkable scientific
breakthrough, which will permit the reanimation of the victims of
the war, providing of course their bodies can be found.
It is a very evocative story he tells, and it does not require that
much imagination to see four fingered spacemen and five fingered
There are moving moments such as the reviving of one of the first
bodies they find, only to learn that he would rather not live
without his wife. They do revive the wife, after a determined search
to find her. They also revive representatives of various castes and
a couple of hunters from the enemy country, and a small settlement
starts up of course in a protected environment. It will take time to
be able to walk around outside without protective clothing. The
planet has a second chance to become civilized.
Then comes the dramatic discovery that not everyone died in the war.
There are some who don't need to be revived. Deep underground are
some of those who started and directed the war, and now see the
aliens as a new foe. Again nuclear missiles are readied to knock out
the space ship and the settlement.
I very much like the title of the last chapter, "And There Will Be
I found it interesting that the book goes on for some fifty pages,
after we would normally expect it to end, perhaps to emphasize the
continuation of life. Anyway, the expedition returning to Earth
spends some time collecting an anthology of short stories, some of
them quite entertaining. My favourite is the one where this poor
Earth ambassador is received by a people who have read "The Princess
and the Pea", and think that's how we want to be treated. As they
don't know what a pea is, they use something like a giant sea shell,
and the resultant bruise silences those claiming this person is a
spy and not the ambassador from Earth.
I've also been reading A MARTIAN POTION, a thick collection of Kir
Bulychev's great Guslyar stories, and maybe I'll write more on them
on another occasion.
Solarguard Russia and Eastern Europe