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A Short History of Russian "Fantastica"/Supplement 2 to part 4

< A Short History of Russian "Fantastica"

In 1984 attacks on science fiction writers became more frequent. The letter below to the newspaper LITERATURNAYA GAZETA can shed some light on the situation regarding SF at that time.

Dear Sir,

I want to say some words as regards J. Bugelski's article THE CAPTIVITY OF A BLACK HOLE (LITERATURNAYA GAZETTE, 17.10.1984). It is usual either to prize fantasy or to criticize it severely. This fact testifies to the popularity of this genre and to readers and literary critics interest in it. This fact is a small wonder. What is fantasy? "...It is the form of a reflection of the world when it was created, on the basis of real conceptions of a picture of the universe which isn't logically connected with this world." Such a definition is given in an encyclopedia. Rable, Swift, Gogol, Gofman, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Strugatski... it is impossible to list all the writers. It is impossible to imagine world literature without fantasy.

Fantasy, as with all great literature, doesn't exist separate from the acute social, philosophical discussions of mankind's common problems. It always concentrates on the main problems of our life, irrespective of the scene of action of its heroes. The American writer and magazine editor, H. L. Gold, believes that SF reflects wishes, alarms, fears and hopes, the inner and outer tensions of our times better than any other genre of literature. I think it isn't especially necessary to make a resolution that imaginary contradictions with logic is only an artistic device. True, it is one of the strongest in SF. Most likely it is not necessary also to explain what such a device is applied to. We can remember one of Gogol's protagonists whose nose runs away from him. Did anyone who had read this great work ask, "What did it run away for?" Or, "And why did the author write of such an awkwardness? Can anyone's nose run away?" We see only a challenge to common sense, but there is no conflict with artistic logic; such is the magical convincingness of Gogol's words.

I don't intend to speak in support of works which were criticized by J. Bugelski. On the contrary, I can also give dozens of examples which confirm Bugelski's view. And what is more, I don't want to argue with this author. Really, "... a new subject in modern SF, as in all other genres, is a rarity." It is, indisputably. "We can give dozens of cases where science fiction writers use the same plot, or they force their characters to say, with pathos, scandalous banality and trivial maxims. And do, as a rule, with pretensions of deep philosophical generalizations." This is quite right! But why did J. Bugelski choose only science fiction for this illustration of all these negative things? Why didn't he choose any other literary genre? Is it by chance? I think it is not by mere chance.

The researcher of fantasy, V. I. Bugrov, wrote in the foreword to his delightful book, "in distant 1938 A. Belyaev entitled his notes about fantasy expressively and laconically - "Cinderella". Alas, this headline precisely reflected a scornful attitude to SF which existed at that time. And up to the present the state of SF is very distant from its ideal [1]. And here is yet another opinion which was expressed by science fiction writer R. Podolni: "Nobody says that A. Duma's novels or Agatha Christies adventure stories haven't a right to exist because they are the literature of adventure. But it was possible, with respect to science fiction, till now[2]

I will limit myself to only these two quotations, although I could continue. So, fantasy is easier to criticize severely than other literary genres, and it is only because it became a tradition. Fantasy is, in GOSCOMIZDAT's[3] account, "Cinderella" up-to-date. You may drop in to GOSCOMIZDAT and ask "How is your publishing of SF literature going?" "Okay!" they answer, "we have published a lot of things, and we are getting ready to publish more." All right! But we only know what is really published and Mr. Bugelski has also written about it. Can somebody in GOSCOMIZDAT or your editors affirm that he never reads such books as THE UGLY SWANS, THE TROIKA STORY, THE SNAIL ON A HILLSIDE, and so on? Then where did you buy these books and where were they published? Of course they were published by SAMIZDAT, that is to say, these and many other books were published by the readers themselves. They simply hadn't any other way. It is amusing to read critical articles in which are mentioned the titled of "non-existent" books. Mr. Zhvanetski[4] said, "they are reading books which nobody wrote, they are buying books which nobody sold." But SAMIZDAT is a dangerous thing. It leads to the creation of the black market where cultural values are sold. I don't talk about anti-social literature, pornography or the "medical" works of our amateur yogis. I talk about fantasy.

Let you and I try to conduct a test. We can take V. Michailov's work THE STEM AND TWO LEAVES (which was published by one of the State publishing houses and which was criticized by J. Bugelski), then retype it with an old typewriter and try to sell it for 30 rubles. Does it get published? It is unlikely. But it does come out if we try to sell the book THE UGLY SWANS (which was published by SAMIZDAT). We must think of this fact instead of picking out the weakest works and thundering out against them.

Nobody will deny that today the questions of issuing and publishing are the chief questions of literature, ideology and education. And that SAMIZDAT successfully competes with any State publishing house. It is our defeat. It is offensive that it concerns fantasy, which is very popular. NOTES: 1, V. I. Bugrov, "The Quest for The Day After Tomorrow", Swerdlovsk, 1984, . 2. R. G. Podolni, "Talk about SF, with respect and love". 3. The State Committee which controlled all the publishing houses in the USSR. 4. The popular comic actor.


  1. V. I. Bugrov, "The Quest for The Day After Tomorrow", Swerdlovsk, 1984
  2. R. G. Podolni, "Talk about SF, with respect and love".
  3. The State Committee which controlled all the publishing houses in the USSR.
  4. The popular comic actor.

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