At first, the Soviet Union during the 1970’s appears to be a unexpected source of great science fiction literature. While the romanticized themes of cybernetics and automation certainly made their way into Soviet pop culture, the Soviet Union missed the computer revolution entirely, leaving it with seventeen times less the amount of computers per capita than the United States (Freeze 436). Even so, the Soviet Union emerged as a power house for science fiction, giving rise to some of the best, most creative science fiction authors of all time. However, with the rise of science fiction in both the Soviet Union and the West came yet another opportunity for competition.
An article recounting a conversation held at a round table between Soviet science fiction authors demonstrates that there was a stark ideological difference between Soviet and Western sci-fi. In short, the round table goes into detail as to why Soviet sci-fi is superior to bastardized Western sci-fi. One of the authors in particular goes into a comical tirade about how Western sci-fi has devolved over the years. He states that Western sci-fi has become nothing more than a cheap knock-off of preexisting work over saturated with “ghosts, monsters, catastrophes, murders and pornography”. He then claims this bastardization of sci-fi has the sole purpose stupefying readers, “instilling in them fear and distrust of their own powers and of the possibility of foreseeing and controlling the future”. One point he makes that I find particularly interesting is that this new form of Western science fiction is nothing more than the resurgence of medieval mysticism disguised by supernovas and time fractures. He backs this up by citing American author Walter Miller’s “A Canticle of Leibowitz”, in which the Roman Catholic church is the first thing to emerge on Earth following nuclear annihilation.
In response to this criticism of Western sci-fi, another author then goes on to applaude the work of Soviet science fiction, stating that, in contrast to Western sci-fi, “[s]oviet science fiction has always been suffused with a spirit of social optimism. According to him, Western authors provide only gloomy forecasts of the future, to which the only solution is often either total destruction of mankind via nuclear war, or the hellish degeneration of capitalism. He then cites the work of Ivan Yefremov who used science fiction to paint an optimistic picture of a communist future. “The world portrayed in ‘The Andromeda Nebula’ is beautiful. The book depicts communism in the era of its great flourishing not in the form of abstract Utopian wishes but in accordance with the possibilities of social and scientific progress’.
Overall, the translation of this round table is one of the most interesting things I have read in a long time. I recommend everyone read it in full, as there are many other gems which I did not include in this post. It is so interesting to see how science fiction emerged as a platform for ideological debate.
Link to round table: https://dlib-eastview-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/13625737
Gary, Freeze. Russia A History. Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 436.