August 28 in Russian history

1925: Arkady Strugatsky was born in Batumi, Georgia. He and his brother Boris (born in 1933) became the best known Soviet sci-fi authors. Being a translator from Japanese, he also translated into Russian works by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Abe Kobo and other outstanding Japanese writers. Together with Boris, he translated also British and American sci-fi writers, like John Wyndham and Hal Clement. They started writing science fiction in early 50s and finished their first story, "The Ashes of Bikini", in 1956. The plot was an average Soviet "anti-imperialist" story, however, among other works of that period, the story looked unusual. Today, it's almost unreadable, but it was only the beginning.

In 1959 they published "The Land of Crimson Clouds", a story of an expedition to Venus. It was a heroic enterprise, once again in the typical Soviet style. But this book was where their own universe was born — the Noon universe. This universe was later continued in 13 more novels and 2 short stories and became the dream world for many Soviet intellectuals. In these books the communist world was described much more attractively than in Das Kapital. The technocratic global state, governed by the World Council, 60% of which were the most prominent teachers and physicians, is busy with the searches of knowledge and selfless assistance to other planets. The first novel from this cycle, "Noon, 22nd Century", was published in 1962 and was sometimes called "the gala portrait of the epoch". In spite of this slightly condescending label, the book was very well written.

Soon, their novels became more elaborate, the conflicts were more complicated, the moral problems harder, the communist dogmas disappeared, even though the political landscape was unmistakingly communist (in the best sense of this word). The Strugatsky brothers later said that they built "a world where life and work are interesting". And immediately the problems begin. Their new books are thoroughly studied by censorship, delayed, the publishers ask them to rewrite some parts to comply with the ideology, etc. They wrote a brilliant "urban fairy tale" "Monday Begins on Saturday", which, on the one hand, satirizes Soviet bureaucracy, and, on the other hand, proclaims the joy of selfless work for the sake of humanity. Later, annoyed by the censorship, they continue the story with "The Tale of Troika", where the same characters appear.

Some of the novels were made into films, including the famous "Stalker" by Andrei Tarkovsky, made after the story "The Roadside Picnic".

Some books, like "The Ugly Swans" and "The Doomed City", were never published till the fall of the USSR. Wikipedia has well translated pages about the books of the Strugatsky brothers and I will not retell them. Some books are translated into English and some are available for free download from the authors' web-page.

For some reason, I was sure until recently that these books are so good that they will remain to be the favourite books of the new generations of geeks for a long time. Strangely, I found out that my son reads them, but is not really interested in the events. Does it take to have been born in the USSR to understand them? Can't believe that.

On October 12, 1991, Arkady Strugatsky died in Moscow. It was a real tragedy for the sci-fi lovers in the USSR.

Updated 2007-08-29: While mentally re-reading their books yesterday in bed, I recalled two quotations which, IMO, are the essence of their books: "Of all solutions, choose the kindest" and "Happiness is in the continual learning, and the meaning of life is the same. Every man is a magus deep in his soul, but he only becomes a magus when thinks less of himself and more about the others, when work is more interesting for him than entertainment".

1941: The Volga German autonomous Soviet Socialit republic, formed in 1924, was abolished. Many German settlers were exiled to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Simply for being Germans.

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