messier object

old news, apparently

Image comics presents: the Soviet Syd Mead!

But there’s a Soviet SF manga?  As bizarre as it seems to me to create socialist-inflected science fiction in this day and age*, it’s certainly interesting both as an aesthetic (ushankas for everyone!) and as a stylistic experiment.   I think the fact that it’s comics makes it even more fun, potentially, in the former – there’s certainly enough neatlooking abandoned Soviet futuristic hardware. But I don’t know how far it actually is going to go as a style experiment.  In Subversive Imaginations: Fantastic Prose and the End of Soviet Literature, 1970s-1990s, Nadya Peterson wrote that (and I think I agree) “the Stalinist novel and Soviet science fiction are both formulaic structures whose protagonists ‘know or discover the laws governing their social existence, and the ultimate outcome of those laws in a Great Society of the future.’ Which, if you’re writing a Soviet-style science fiction history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, leaves you with a pretty depressing Marxist world-system – something that could be cool, but might not be attractive for most authors.  So will it live up to the maxim**?  I dunno, but I just ordered the first volume, so we’ll see.

*and, yes, I’m not counting China Miéville here.

**so, so hard to avoid a Mac Sim/Strugatskys pun.

life has become better, life has become more cheerful

From its beginning at the turn of the 20th century, Russian communist science fiction had a strong focus on the history of the future. This developed through the 1920s before the issues of political correctness and the general crackdown on literature in the Stalinist period ended the publishing of science fiction in 1931 . Until the liberalization following the death of Stalin science fiction publishing was essentially nil, excluding a few stories set in the extremely near future. But this was blown apart by the publication of Ivan Yefremov’s Andromeda in 1957, a work that would inspire the re-creation of a Soviet science fiction writing culture. And with this new culture came new visions of the development of history into the future: long prohibited by code, authors began to not only set their stories in the far future but flesh out the imagined worlds – indeed the entire universes – in which their stories took place.

These universe creators ranged from Yefremov to the politically troubling works of the Soviet Union’s most popular native science fiction authors, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. Coded in these works, were the visions not only of what the future might look like, but how the science of Marxism would describe the progress of humanity. These new works also critiqued the notion of the linear progress of humanity in the strict Marxist mold, its inflexibility and its belief that the Soviet Union marked an endpoint for human history, raised questions of sharing progress and uplifting the less-historically developed states of the world, and reflected the issues and fears of the new generation of intellectuals in the Soviet Union.

The notion of historical uplift in Russian Marxist science fiction begins in 1905 with Alexander Bogdanov’s Red Star. At its core, this 1908 novel is a tour of the futuristic utopia of Mars, a society which has reached its ultimate historical potential – and, thus, a description of what future communist states should be like. In Red Star, these Martians abduct (willingly) a single human of the most developed type: a Russian Bolshevik named Leonid. Their purpose in this is to attempt to acclimate a human to their fully communist society. While the Martians do not feel they can actively force communism on humanity, nonetheless they advocate for doing “the best [they] can to facilitate that development” to a position from which they can be considered by the Martians as equals . In many senses, this first work is a reverse of the situation found in later novels: it is the earthling who is undeveloped in comparison to the aliens, and is about his reaction to the advanced society and the efforts at uplifting him to the level of the Martians. Later works would turn this on its head, with humanity the universal progressor and stories told unfailingly from the perspective of those trying, subtly or not, to bring other societies to their level. Continue reading