Science fiction sales - the post-Soviet generation –
Technology & Media – International Herald Tribune
Sunday, October 29, 2006
BERLIN: In 1963, George Anania published "Constellations from the Waters," the first of 10 science fiction novels that established him and his co-author, Romulus Barbulescu, as pioneers of the genre in Romania.
Back then, Anania and Barbulescu drew their inspiration from Russian writers like Ivan Efremov and the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, or the Polish author Stanislaw Lem, who wrote of parallel universes, distant fiefdoms and extraterrestrial class struggles. In a world where criticizing current society was forbidden, alternative reality was good metaphor, and even better, safe.
Most of the time, that is. In the 1980s, the
government of Nicolae Ceausescu took control of Anania and Barbulescu's growing
circle of fan clubs to monitor discussions on utopian societies and social
justice. After the collapse of the
But 42 years after his first novel, Anania, now 65, and Barbulescu, 82, are back at it - putting the finishing touches on "The Struggle With The Angel," the last book in what has so far been a best-selling trilogy about life in a world of robots.
"After the Soviet Union collapsed, science fiction's popularity
faded a bit in
Publishing experts say such feelings are having an effect on the market.
They say that science fiction is making a comeback in Eastern Europe and
"The Russian science fiction market has been growing very
quickly," said Stefan Baumgarth, assistant
editor at Kubon & Sagner
Verlag, a publisher of Russian books based in
Sales of science fiction novels in
Since the first post-Soviet Russian private publishing house was founded
in 1989, the industry has continued to grow. Publishers like AST, Eksmo and Terra are releasing 80 to 100 new science
fiction/fantasy books each month, according to the business newspaper Delovoi Petersburg. Sales of Russian science fiction novels
are up 35 percent this year at Ruslania Books, an online seller of Russian
literature based in
"The Russian soul has to believe in something," said Andreas Agopov, who is half Russian and a part owner of Ruslania. "Since they can't believe in the Soviet system anymore and some don't believe in God, they have to believe in something. Women believe in health, magical things. Men read books about space."
For most of the 20th century, Russians had been avid science fiction
readers, said Birgit Menzel, a professor of Slavic
cultural studies at
Major works during the Cold War included the 1957 space novel
"Andromeda Nebula" by Efremov, and the 25
novels of the Strugatskys, brothers from
The Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, who made a film of Lem's novel "Solaris" in 1972, filmed the Strugatsky novel "Roadside Picnic" as "Stalker" in 1979.
"The Strugatskys became the absolute model for post-Stalinist utopian literature, and their books were popular reading for a broad segment of the intelligentsia," Menzel said. "Science fiction was the only genre under Socialist Realism where unfiltered discussion of utopia could take place."
In 1988, near the end of his life, Arkady Strugatsky met Peter Fleischmann, a director from what was
"Hard to Be a God" follows a government agent, Rumata, who is sent to the distant planet Arkanar in the 30th century to observe a medieval society where residents are oppressed by a small ruling class. Confronted by the murderous consequences of the injustice he witnesses, Rumata breaks strict orders not to get involved and ends up leading the revolution.
Fleischmann, now executive director of the
At its premiere in
"Arkady sparred with the journalists at the news conference, defending the film," Fleischmann said during an interview. "He was a big, powerful man who was in poor health but fought for his film to be seen by a wider audience. At one point, he shouted at the reporters: 'I've taken my 12-year-old grandson to the film and even he wasn't scared!'"
Although Arkady Strugatsky died two years later, in 1991, the brothers' literary legacy continues to influence East European writers like Barbulescu and Anania, who are finishing the trilogy they began with "Doando," or "Life Without Life."
The last installment, Anania said, focuses again on a society populated by people who seem to be human but are actually robots, although they do not know it. "They are instruments of a creator who has programmed them to take their planet to a different place, but they don't know the destination," he said.
Their book will compete with other literary heirs to the Strugatskys, including Vyacheslav Rybakov, who collaborated with Boris Strugatsky on screenplays in the 1980s, and Sergey Lukyanenko, a former Russian psychotherapist whose novel "Dnevnoy Dozor," or "Day Watch," completes a trilogy about the final conflict between good and evil played out in present-day Moscow.
Lukyanenko's trilogy has so far sold more than three
million copies outside