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View Full Version : SF readers, East versus West



ngc3314
2004-Oct-24, 07:53 PM
I was recently reading a Russian history of the space race (for summary, see http://www.astr.ua.edu/keel/space), and came across a noteworthy observation. Or maybe it's an assertion, or overgeneralization, but any rate something I think could produce some interesting comments from this globally-spread forum. Anton Pervushin contended that Soviet SF "fandom" was clearly always a species of literary criticism, while particularly in the US, it was more about making the unreal real (his phrasing was, as best I could translate it, rather less flattering, more like confusing fantasy and reality). Not necessarily a bad thing if it leads to people actually exercising some of the possibilities...

But anyway - what's the experience of readers/viewers out there in the 24 terretstrial time zones? Is this Bad SF History or penetrating insight?

Walrus
2004-Oct-24, 09:32 PM
I don't think it's inaccurate. Part of this, however, is that the variety of "pulpy" SF that existed in the US in the 1930s-40s simply wasn't allowed under Stalin. In the 1930s the variety of material that was allowed to be published in the USSR was greatly constricted, and the genre of science fiction was smothered as a result. Classic Socialist Realism emphasized the near future and discouraged flights of fancy that didn't relate directly to the Communist Party program. There was science fiction in the 1920s under NEP, however, some of which was very good literature- Bulgakov's The Heart of a Dog, for instance, which is like The Island of Doctor Moreau set in 1920s Moscow, is about a dog who is turned into the "New Soviet Man" by means of a pinneal gland transplant. These works often used science fiction to explore both the reality and the potential of the Socialist Revolution. There were also some very bad works describing the sort of technological utopia the USSR was expected to become, but even these tended to have much more overt ideological content than pulpy western SF. This is not to say good SF didn't exist in the west, but the Soviet material lends itself to more to deconstruction since it was produced in an overt ideological context. After Stalin's death SF reappeared in force, especially after the Soviet space program really got going. While in Russia this summer I purchased a DVD of Taina Tretei Planetei ("Mystery of the Third Planet") which is a Brezhnev-era children's cartoon about an interstellar voyage. While this is an escapist SF film, it has ideological elements readily recognizable to anyone familiar with Socialist Realist norms. Still, it's not a great movie. So I think the relative scarcity of bad SF in the USSR had more to do with it, as well as the fact that Communist ideology was integrated into nearly all forms of Soviet media, which makes them easier to analyze. But it's also true that Soviet literary critics were much more prone to take SF seriously than westerners. Major Russian writers started thinking seriously about SF-type themes in the 19th century, and Verne and Wells were widely read in Soviet times.

Jpax2003
2004-Oct-24, 10:52 PM
I think it is a valid point. In the west we have a lot of science fantasy like star wars which is space opera. Perhaps their fiction was more narrow and tended towards hard scifi so that it could further the goals of soviet policies. A lot of american SF is about achieving a fantastic goal with super natural or super scientific means. That would lend fans to hope for the means to achieve that fantastic goal. In other words, western SF tended towards breaking the status quo, while soviet SF may have tended to support the status quo.

Parrothead
2004-Oct-25, 12:15 AM
In addition to Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog, I'm thinking Eugene Zamiatin's We could be thrown into the same category (I had to read both as part of a Russian Lit & Society course). Both were written in the 1920's, but not published in the Soviet Union until the late 1980's. We has been recognized as the inspiration for Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.

ngc3314
2004-Oct-25, 02:43 AM
In addition to Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog, I'm thinking Eugene Zamiatin's We could be thrown into the same category (I had to read both as part of a Russian Lit & Society course). Both were written in the 1920's, but not published in the Soviet Union until the late 1980's. We has been recognized as the inspiration for Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.

This brings me (circuitously) to something else that exemplifies the difference Pervushin wrote of. I have trouble imagining an SF con of the variety one saw in the US by the early 1980s - costumes, role-playing games, filk full of longing for the Universe - showing up in the Communist era. What were such mirror-bloc get-togethers like? Anything on a scale bigger than private gatherings?

The Supreme Canuck
2004-Oct-25, 02:55 AM
I think that anything bigger than that, no matter what the subject, would have been discouraged by the government. Strongly discouraged.