A Short History of Russian "Fantastica"/Part 5

Supplements 1 & 2, Part 5 and its supplement appear in Australian science fiction periodical "The Mentor", Issue 81. (January 1994)


I wrote the date in inverted commas deliberately; although the question is one of chronology, it isn't that of Orwell's well-known book. Simply the stagnation in the USSR culminated in 1984 and it adversely affected Soviet fantasy. The fantasy boom was in the sixties. "Suddenly all changed," wrote the brothers Strugatski in their article on the condition of literary SF. "The editorial board [1] was driven out, excellent workers were discharged, and a group of authors that had collaborated with the new editorial board disintegrated. Pompous declarations and programs began to issue forth instead of books[2]. " The new editorial board was led by the writer J. Mededev and later it was led by the writer V. Sherbakov. "Medvedev's editorial board issued about ten fantasy titles," noted the Strugatskis. V. Sherbakov's editorial board brought the total of fantasy books issued to the numbers of the boom of the sixties, but the quality of the books was poor[3]. New authors were in a difficult situation. (There were a lot of authors in the seventies: V. Krapivin, S. Drugal, V. Babenko, R. Ribakov, A. Gevorkyan, B. Gilin, B. Shtern, A. Lazarchuk, A. Dmitruk, L. Kozinets, A. Stolyarov, and others.) Nevertheless, the year-book FANTASTIKA and THE LIBRARY OF SOVIET SF continued to be published and some other publishers also published SF (they was the publishers Mir (The World), Znanie (Knowledge) and Detskaya Literatura (Literature for Children).

Of course not all ideas could penetrate the armor of Soviet censorship. But the field of ideas widened gradually. Moral and ethical problems were examined. It is unlikely such problems could have been examined in the 40's and 50's. For example, the problem of the influence of the Universe on the person who investigated it was examined in S. Pavlov's novel THE MOON RAINBOW and in the Strugatski's stories THE BEETLE IN THE ANT-HILL and THE WAVES ARE SMOOTHED BY WIND. In the Strugatski's story MILLIARD YEARS BEFORE THE END OF THE UNIVERSE, the Universe compensates for the results of discoveries which are undesirable to it, and annihilates the scientists who are involved.

Soviet SF began to acquire ecological features (the writers I. Roshoovatski, J. Nikitin, and A. Yakubovski). The phantasmagoria (D. Kovalenkov's EAST OF NIGHTMARE, the grotesque (M. Veller), and social fantasy took their rightful place. Many magazines, especially TECHNIKA MOLODEGY (Engineering For Youth), URALSKI SLEDOPIT (The Urals Explorer) and KHIMIA AND GIZEN (Chemistry and Life) printed works of SF. Publication of new works and the appearance of new ideas generated the second and thirdwaves of fan clubs. "The second wave was in 1975-1978. Fan clubs were formed in many cities. There were three factors governing their appearance. Firstly, a generation of people grew up who were able to read first-rate domestic and foreign SF nearly from the first year of Secondary School. Second, such authors as K. Bulichev, D. Bilenkin, V. Grigoriev, V. Michailov, Mrs O. Larionova, etc, were generally recognized, and they had influence with readers..... And thirdly, the fan clubs began to receive aid from the science fiction writers themselves. There were such authors in Rostov city (Yasnovski and Amatuni), in Kaliningrad (the writer Snegov) and in the Urals (Bugrov). A seminar of young SF writers worked in Leningrad with B. Strugatski as head of the seminar, and in 1979 a like seminar commenced in Moscow, headed by D. Bilenkin, E. Voiskunski and G. Gurevich. The magazine URALSKI SLEDOPIT played an important role and now it plays the most important role because the magazine became a kind of press-centre for all fan clubs.

The third wave was in the very beginning of the 80's. It was characterized by the rapid growth of fan clubs. The contingent of fantasy readers was divided into three almost equal groups: the ages of 17-20, the ages of 23-26 and the ages of 32-34. (Each group includes about 20% of those examined. The reader's opinion poll was made by the fan club Rifei in the cities of Perm[4] and Abakan among 300 fantasy lovers.)4 The first seminar of fan clubs was held in Perm in 1981 and in 1982 there were three held at the same time in Rostov, Sverdlovsk and Kaliningrad. Meetings of fantasy lovers in Sverdlovsk (where the Aelita[5] prize was handed to the author of the best SF work) became a traditional yearly affair and turned into the national SF fans convention. The Aelita prize was founded by the magazine URALSKI SLEDOPIT [6] makes a comparison with Orwell's 1984), the fan clubs were persecuted.

At the end of May the newspaper KOMSOM - OLSKAYA PRAVDA[7] published N. Kviginadze and B. Pilipenko's article I EXCHANGED FANTASY FOR DETECTIVE STORIES in which they sharply criticized (and, as it turned out, unjustifiably) the fan club Gelios (Tbilisi city). After that article the fan clubs were subjected to "verification": they received a lot of (official) questionnaires and enquiries. Some fan clubs ceased to exist under enigmatic circumstances, and other fan clubs fought for their existence. The fan club Protei (Odessa) even cried for help to the Central Committee of the CPSU. Regular meetings of fan clubs in Sverdlovsk was prohibited[8] Fan clubs couldn't undertake anything at that time. It was made a requirement (which was extremely naive, as we can see now) to analyze the situation and to expose the cause of such a negative attitude by the authorities to science fiction.

This requirement was put into effect with an article, "The State of Things in SF" [9] which was sent to many fan clubs and to many newspapers and magazines (which didn't publish it). This was written in the article: "The fan clubs' activities are in deep crisis, and we think this is the very moment to talk frankly about this fact. Very likely a single public and fan organization was the cause of many doubts, apprehensions, disputes and dissensions; it was an object of close attention and criticism in our country’s the fan clubs. The subject is what is the source of fan clubs' activities?. Fantasy, as people understand it, is something unreal, abstract, and it is remote from real life; it is something about the future or about the past, it is about that which wasn't or what will not be. And there are people who are interested in all those things not only beginner science fiction writers but fans. They are interested in the distant future: they want to discuss some fantastic ideas, to regard the best works of Soviet and foreign authors, to see a new SF film, to make a survey of new SF books, and so on. They have an inexhaustible fund of inventiveness. These people give hours, days, months and years in their exhilaration. Maybe contemplation of others playing football is preferable for somebody. It is perhaps. But everybody has their own habits. People have created more than a hundred fan clubs in our great country, and they are enthusiastically busy with their fan business.

"Fantasy lovers' usual activity and the specific features of fantasy itself bring the authorities' suspicion of SF. The youth newspapers have almost stopped printing SF. But there are many clubs which arose with the help of newspapers not long ago. For example the fan club Fant (Chabarovsk city) printed its science fiction works in a local newspaper for more than 10 years. The magazine TECHNIKA MOLODEGY (#10, 1983) wrote that other fan clubs might adopt the Fant's experience. Alas, now it's experience will be helpful to very few clubs."

The fan clubs were persecuted not only because of their desire for unusual events. The Soviet authorities couldn't endure any fan organizations or associations. (And that the fan clubs were one of only a few larger safety-valves which were permitted an unofficial activity). The Soviet special services continued to scrutinize fan clubs.

I have already mentioned the Strugatskis' paper "The State of Literary SF" in which they subjected to sharp criticism the activities of GOSCOMIZDAT[10] and the publisher Molodaya Gvardia. The article was sent to many fan clubs, but not long after, I received a letter from A. Strugatski in which he asked that the distribution of the article be stopped, because he feared that it could do a lot of harm to fan clubs. "I am aware that the distribution of my paper can be taken in a very odious form. Yes, I... myself offered it to Odessa's[11] fan club to have them acquaint as many other fan clubs as possible (with it). But neither I nor Odessa's fan club foresaw how things would turn out. And you must note, and tell everyone who has any personal interest in SF, that only I, A. Strugatski, bear the responsibility for the article and its distribution. Let everybody who is asked, or will be asked, say only the truth: yes, A. Strugatski decided to familiarize all SF fans with this article; yes, A. Strugatski decided he didn't want to wait until they could publish the article in newspapers[12]; yes, A. Strugatski took it upon himself the responsibility for this article, he wanted the readers to know at last, who, why and for what purpose SF was persecuted; the paper is for sale on the black market through A. Strugatski's fault, and you must accuse only A. Strugatski, and leave us alone. It is the exact truth. We must pull the fan clubs from beneath such a blow. I am thankful to Irakli, and I will be thankful to you, Andrei, if you put all your friends into the proper mode of action[13]."

I do not think that A. Strugatski was frightened for fan clubs for nothing. The events of 1984-1985 were in his mind (at that time they could call any editor to the KGB and would let him go only if he had only published harmless articles in his newspaper). But the situation changed little by little. It seems the authorities realized that they would never be able to manage the fan clubs if only repressive measures were used. They decided to tame fan clubs, putting them under the control of the Central Committee of the Young Communist League (the Komsomol). Partly, the fan clubs tried to attain the same object, because they wanted to lighten the conditions under which they were active. It was suggested in the already cited article by L. Vachtangishvili, A. Lubenski and S. Gelikonov, "We ask the Central Committee of the Young Communist League to create the All-Union of fantasy lovers, which would consolidate all fan clubs and other fantasy lovers.

"It is necessary 1) to elaborate the regulations of the Federation, which determine the structure and principles of this organization; 2) to consolidate the unity of fan clubs with the local party, Komsomol, and public organizations; 3) to create a science fiction magazine which will be a monthly publication of the Federation; and 4) to support fan clubs, to grant them premises and cinematographic equipment (any club, Palace of Culture, library, and every school has such means).

"It is possible to create children's sections of fan clubs attached to the Young Pioneer Palaces that will create conditions for the organization of children's leisure.

"It is desirable to organize book supplies to fan clubs with the aid of the All-Union Society of Book Lovers."

The fan clubs agreed to co-operate with the Young Communist League also because almost all of the young fantasy lovers were members of this League. (The Young Communist League took young people into its membership almost automatically when they became 14 years old up till they were 30 years old[14].

Results appeared very quickly. The first All-Union Meeting of fan clubs was organized in Kiev in March 1988. Representatives of more than a hundred fan clubs from every quarter of the country gathered at the meeting. It was there that the All-Union Board of Fan Clubs was created, which was founded by the Central Committee of the Young Communist League, the All-Union Society of Book Lovers, the Union of Writers of the USSR, the Ministry of Culture of the USSR, the State Committee for Publishing Activity and the Federation of Cosmonauts of the USSR[15]. All these recognized institutions forgot at once the All-Union Board of Fantasy Lovers which they themselves had founded. Incidentally, the Central Committee of the Young Communist League became a sponsor of the All-Union Association of Young SF Writers which commended the series RUMBI FANTASTIKI (The Compass Points of Fantasy). "The principles of their Association were laid down by a group of enthusiasts in 1987 in Novosibirsk, where a meeting of beginner SF writers took place. That meeting marked the beginning of both a continuing working seminar and an association which not only found and chose worth-while books, but also published such works. This activity helped many readers to find dozens of new authors", wrote A. Gorshenin[16]. The series RUMBI FANTASTIKI published such authors as V. Golovachev (the novel THE PATH OF THE HURRICANE), J. Glaskov (the SF writer and cosmonaut), A. Dmitruk (his novel DREAM ABOUT A FOREST LAKE is a continuation of Gobol's tradition in fantasy), J. Medvedev, J. Bruder, N. Chadovich, M. Puchov, Mrs L. Lukina, E. Lukin, N. Polunin, V. Sherbakov, J. Nevski, A. Bushkov and many others.

The series RUMBI FANTASTIKI provided many young and unknown writers with an opportunity to publish their works. (We must also remember that in 1985 Perestroika began in the USSR and Gorbachev proclaimed Glasnost (publicity), which had some likeness to freedom of speech. But I doubt whether fantasy would have sighed freely without Glasnost). At that time supporters of the publisher Molodaya Gvardia fought against the brothers Strugatski's supporters. The brothers Strugatski criticized this publisher, and many fan clubs supported them. Here is a chronicle of events for only one year (from September 1988 to September 1989):

2nd-10th September, 1988. There is a festival of fantasy, "Big Fantan" (Odessa), which was organized by the fantasy lovers association Zemlyane[17] and the fan clubs Protei and Antei. The science fiction writers S. Gansovski, S. Snegov and B. Shtern were the guests of honor of the festival.

12th-13th November, 1988. A Far East conference, "Fantasy is the Literature of Intellectual Fearlessness" took place in Yuznosachalinsk city (on the island Sachalin). It was organized by the Sachalin committee of The Young Communist League, the All-Union Society of Book Lovers and the fan club association "The Far East Rim".

21st November - 3rd December, 1988. The seventh Young SF Writers All-Union seminar took place at Dubulti near Riga. The writers B. Bugrov, E. Voiskunski, S. Snegov, V. Michailov, M. Krivich, O. Olgin, Mrs. O. Larionova, A. Shalimov and the publishers Detskaya Literatura, Znanie, Mir, Moskovski Rabochii[18] took part in the seminar.

19th-21st May, 1989. The festival "Aelita" took place in Sverdlovsk. The prize Aelita was presented to S. Gansovski for his novel THE ESCAPE. The prize "Start" was inaugurated. This prize is presented to a young SF writer for the best work of the year. The first "Start" prize winner was B. Shtern from Kiev. He was awarded it for his novel WHO’S PLANET? The prize in honor of I. Efremov was presented to G. Grechko for the television serial IT'S A FANTASTIC WORLD.

The first conference of the All-Union Association of Fan Clubs also took place in those days in Sverdlovsk.

May 1989. The Russian fan I. B. Zavgorodni took part in Eurocon in San Marino.

2nd-3rd June 1989. Readings which are named after I. Efremov were given in Moscow (they previously took place in Nokolaev). I. Efremov's widow, the scientists A. Britikov and I. Bestugev-Lada, the cosmonaut G. Grechko (who was in charge of fan clubs), the writers G. Gurevich, S. Snegov, Mrs O. Larionova, the literary critic V. Gopman and others spoke at a conference.

3rd -9th September 1989. The first congress of fantasy lovers of Socialist States took place in Coblevo (near Nikolaev). Representatives of fan clubs from the USSR, Bulgaria, DDR, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia gathered at the congress[19]. Fan clubs also began issuing their own publications at the end of the eighties. They were FAN-OMEN (Vinnica City), MEASURE-F (Leningrad), OVERSAN and OVERSON INFORM (Sevastopol), ABS PANORAMA (Saratov), GELE, BLASTER, THE FIGHTING CAT and many others. They were publications that included criticism and bibliography and also printed the work of young SF writers. Professional SF magazines and newspapers only appeared recently, but that is another History.


  1. The editorial board of SF literature in the publishing house Molodaya Gvardia.
  2. A. Strugatski, B. Strugatski, "The State of Literary SF", the paper, 1986.
  3. "The editorial board in the publishing house Molodaya Gvardia handled its jobs with difficulty and the quality of the jobs were poor," wrote the brothers Strugatski in their article.
  4. B. Bagalyak, "The Knights of Science Fiction", THE LITERARY REVIEW, #2, 1984, p.95
  5. Aelita is the heroine's name from the popular novel by A. Tolstoi AELITA.
  6. Here the author of the history of SF wants to brag about this name given to the Aelita prize, which was proposed by the author.
  7. The main publication of the Central Committee of the Young Communist League.
  8. But nevertheless representatives of some fan clubs arrived in Sverdlovsk, and the Aelita prize was presented.
  9. The authors of the article were A. Lubenski and S. Gelikonov (the fan club Parallax, Cherkassi City) and I. Vachtangishvili (the fan club Gelios (Tbilisi).
  10. The State department which directs activities of all publishers in the country.
  11. The fan club Protei, Odessa.
  12. It was useless to await the publication of the article at that time. Only the magazine URALSKI SLEDOPIT (#4, 1987) published the interview with the brothers Strugatski, where they told of the principal points of the article.
  13. A. Strugatski appealed to Iracli Vachtangishvili with the same request.
  14. As far as I know, only V. Sheluchin actively protested against co-operation. (V. Sheluchin is a literary critic and SF lover from Nikolaev City, Ukraine).
  15. See Supplement to Chapter 5 below. Science fiction writers' statements that addressed the meeting can help you to understand the problems that were discussed at the meeting.
  16. A. Gorshenin, "Imagination and Reflection", (the notes of the new Siberian fantasy), in the book THE AGE OF THE DRAGON, Moscow, 1991, p. 334.)
  17. The inhabitants of the Earth.
  18. The Literature for Children, Knowledge World, and Moscow Worker publishers.
  19. V. Babenko, V. Gopman, THE CHRONICLE OF EVENTS, collection of SF works, Moscow, 1991, pp. 35-7.

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