Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXLII (The Soviet SF special: Strugatsky + Shefner + Bilenkin +Savchenko)

In the late 70s and early 80s a wide range of Soviet SF—from the famous Strugatsky brothers to lesser known authors—was translated and introduced to the American market.  As I have decided to start collecting the Best of Soviet Science Fiction Collier Books series of paperbacks (hardbacks were published by Macmillan), my dad gave me three for my birthday.  My first collecting experiment!  I want to read more SF from outside of the USA and the UK…  This batch is in addition to the only other one I have acquired so far: Half a Life, Kirill Bulychev (USSR 1975, USA 1977).  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the series fetch hefty prices (especially those by the two Strugatsky brothers) online.  And, other than The Ugly Swans (below), I have never encountered them in used book stores… and The Ugly Swans was not cheap (I have my wife to thank!).

The back cover of The Unman/Kovrigin’s Chronicles provides a blurb about the series that I thought I would reproduce: “In the Soviet Union, as in the U.S.A., the fascination with the possibilities of science and technology has led to a rich and long tradition of science fiction.  Macmillan’s BEST OF SOVIET SCIENCE FICTION is now presenting the major works in lively, readable translations, allowing the American reader to explore—for the first time—the wide range of visions of space, time and man’s future in the other major SF tradition.”

As always, thoughts?

1. The Ugly Swans, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (USSR 1972, USA 1979)

The Ugly Swans

(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1979 edition)

From the back cover (Kirkus Reviews quote): “Good news for Strugatsky fans: a brief, adroit novel founded, like the best of their work, on a tantalizingly glimpsed hypothesis rather than reams of science-fcition explanations.  In an unnamed town in a land ruled by an Orwellian ‘Mr. President,’ mysterious causes have produced two years of unceasing ran and turned the local schoolchildren into a cadre of advanced beings who regard their human progenitors with benevolent detachment.  Their metamorphosis seems to be bound up with the simultaneous plague of ‘yellow leprosy’ which has left unknown numbers of bandaged victims (‘slimies’) wandering about the town in apparent communication with the children… The denouement may remind some of Childhood’s End, but the Strugatskys are vastly more resourceful and energetic novelists than Clarke.  Witty, economical, and provocative.”

2. The Uncertainty Principle, Dmitry Bilenkin (USSR 70s, USA 1978)


(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1979 edition)

From the back cover: “Masterfully executed by one of the Soviet Union’s most talented young writers, these eighteen superb stories are a must read for all science fiction fans.  Among the outstanding stories:

‘The Uncertainty Principle’—a twenty-first-century bachelor goes back in time to the eleventh century to find his wife and child, his grave, and his destiny.

‘The Man Who Was Present’—a retired accountant discovers that he has the psychic power to inspire other people.

“What Never Was”—the very latest in psychotherapy, or how to find happiness in suicide.”

3. The Unman / Kovrigin’s Chronicles, Vadim Shefner (USSR 1967, 1964, USA 1980)


(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1980 edition)

No back cover blurb.  The interior contains a two page descriptive discussion of both novels in the collection.  The back cover is predominately the “About the Series” blurb quoted above.

4. Self-Discovery, Vladimir Savchenko (USSR 1967, USA 1979)


(Richard Powers’ cover for the 1979 edition)

From the back cover: “The stunning implications of man’s control over his own biology.  A corpse is found in an electronics laboratory, throwing the entire institute into turmoil.  Suddenly, the body undergoes a bizarre transformation that opens up a startling new scientific vista where the perfectibility of man can become a glorious reality or else descend into an unimaginable hell.”

19 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. CXLII (The Soviet SF special: Strugatsky + Shefner + Bilenkin +Savchenko)

  1. Hi

    I have not read a lot of Soviet SF although I have several Strugatsky titles waiting, but I have to say I love the Powers covers on these examples.

    All the best

  2. The Strugatskys are the only ones I’ve heard of here, but this looks and sounds like a fab collection!

    • Exactly why I wanted to track down the other Soviet SF authors! The Strugatskys certainly dominated our conception of Soviet SF — other than Yvengy Zamyatin’s wonderful We of course…

  3. I’ve read a few German translations of the Strugatzky brothers which were reissued here about five years ago, and they are pretty good. It seems they are well known in Germany, perhaps in part because of former East Germany’s connection to Russia. They remind me in some ways of Stanislaw Lem, a Polish author, though I think Lem is far better.
    I think part of the similarity comes from trying to write about philosophical and social issues in countries where, at that time, doing so was strongly discouraged. Getting these ideas across on a level that was subtle enough to get through the censors made for some very interesting reading material.
    That thought led me to look for reviews of Lem on this site, and, lo and behold, there are none. This surprised me, since Lem is fairly well known in English speaking countries, and his themes usually have a strong philosophical touch. Beside that, he has a great sense of humor. So, if you don’t yet know Lem, give him a try.

    • Thank you for your comment! Yeah, the Strugatskys are sort of well-known in the US (although, their work, including their most famous novels are rarely reprinted and are expensive online) — Roadside Picnic was featured in the Gollanz masterwork sequence…

      However, you have misconstrued a few things… This is a record of *some* of the SF I have read since I started the site. I do not retroactively review books and as of late have not been reviewing most of the SF I read due to time constraints. I have read a large portion of Lem’s writings both non-fiction and fiction that are available in English: my favorite non-fiction collection is A Perfect Vacuum (book reviews of non-existent books) and His Master’s Voice — which is part of the contact thematic “sequence” of novels. So yes, I love Lem!

    • These were all inexpensive at least (under a few dollars a book)…. well, other than The Ugly Swans ($20 +, but, it’s more expensive online!). Some in the series are 60+!

    • I did read The Ugly Swans. It was quite good! (my first Strugatsky read actually!).

      And, the blurb could not be more apt.

      “The denouement may remind some of Childhood’s End, but the Strugatskys are vastly more resourceful and energetic novelists than Clarke. Witty, economical, and provocative.”

      The emphasis is mine…

  4. It’s interesting to see some late Powers covers, I’ve never seen these before. His later work is slightly different than the 50’s -60’s work which actually seem to be easier to find.

  5. I’ve got most of these (though, unfortunately, buried in storage: must. retrieve. soon). Have you read “Hard to be a God”? A really, really excellent twist on the “first contact” motif (though it’s also something of a political allegory).

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