Arkadiy Strugatzkiy (Аркадий Стругацкий) (1925-1991) and Boris Strugatzkiy (Борис Стругацкий) (1933-) are a pair of Russian science fiction writers (brothers). They have had an enormous influence on Russian sci-fi as a phenomenon.
The vast majority of their work deals with the experiences of humanity in the XXI and XXII centuries, but starts as alternate history. Their novels take as a basis for all their prior historical events the Soviet Union's defeat in 1942 by Germany. Now, the Western reader at this point begins to imagine hellish totalitarianism, concentration camps on every corner, and the like. With them, the backstory is pretty much as follows:
- The Soviet Union is defeated and 'merges' with Germany during WWII. Central and Eastern Europe become a bloc not unlike the Warsaw Pact.
- A global Freedom of Information Act is passed. Citizens of the Eastern bloc are shocked to discover the crimes of the Nazi leaders during the war. Rioting and general liberalization takes place. The Western governments likewise go through a purging (May 1968 remains the same).
- The two blocs begin to present two views of society: The West as a society focused on consumerism, the average stereotypical capitalism, and the East as a society focused on science and the learning of new things (what communism has become).
- As a result of the exploitation of Venusian resources (described in Страна багровых туч) the East begins to drastically pull ahead. Britain and France join the Eastern bloc, and America elects its first Communist president.
From there on, the events begin to be concretely described in books. The stories really pick up once they begin to chronicle the XXII century.
Essentially, their books deal with humanity as a Supercivilization. There are only two (maybe three) others: the Tagorans and the Leonidians. One is entirely focused on only doing things that have very few negative consequences (thus, little scientific progress), and the other is entirely at one with Nature. The third civilization is called the Wanderers; they are perhaps an Ubercivilization, and many of the books deal with the subtle traces of their influence on humanity (they are presented as some sort of gods; it always seems like looking for them is a religion, equally in doubt). Humans have to deal with the consequences of their superiority: Progressors, as they're called, are people who work within less developed civilizations to try to advance them, without being discovered. Many haunting episodes show how this activity can hurt rather than help: we learn in later books, for instance, that Обитаемый остров and the main character's heroic actions cause a nuclear war and the extermination of an entire non-humanoid civilization. When internecine struggles in the humanoid medieval kingdom of Arkanar (Трудно быть богом) cause the death of a hidden Earthling researcher's loved one, he goes berzerk and kills a huge number of important people. In these books, Good and Evil are not absolutes, like in most science fiction: what seems good leads to evil, and it is difficult to pass value judgments. In general, their work is very much about the various kinds of intervention by a higher power into the affairs of a lower.
The Strugatzkiys' world is one where all the struggles of today's life have been solved. Food is plentiful, politics don't play a role, people live tremendously long lives. This is called "Midday. XXIInd century" and is summed up in a series of short stories describing the breadth of human progress during this period. It is the midday of humanity; after this, things go downhill.
They also have a number of books not in the series. One of these, Улитка на склоне, is completely amazing. It has more of 'real literature' than sci-fi. Basically, it is a novel about three separate areas where nothing ever happens. The first is a complex dedicated to the study of a nearby sentient forest. Those that are there don't know why; most of them have never been in the Forest. The main character is unable to return to the Mainland--his plans are always thwarted. Even when he becomes the director of the complex, he is utterly impotent--absurd decrees always eventually get signed. We start doubting the city's very existence. The second is the Village, where everyone has a set role and there is absolutely nothing to do except kill zombies that occasionally wander in from the Forest. An old man goes from house to house and eats all the food, and nobody questions why this is so. The main character here was once from the Mainland, and crashlanded here, but that was so long ago and the environment is so stifling that he does not really know if that is true. He always wants to go to the City, but everyone keeps putting it off or ignoring him, until he takes his wife and fights a path to it--the third area, the City, is a hill with some witches on it, who send the zombies to catch women from the Village and turn them into witches. They are primarily occupied by...
Not necessarily killing. Any animal can kill. Making what was living dead. Can you force what was living to become dead?
In all of these areas, the people are engaged in things remarkably similar in style to various Soviet programs--Uprooting; Protection; Destruction; Research; Eradication-- all of which are supposed to apply to the Forest, but are never carried out, and no one is sure which program is active at which time. Basically, like Molloy, but more interesting to read.
My favorite book of theirs is definitely Волны гасят ветер; it is amazingly heartrending. It chronicles a researcher studying the intervention in human affairs by the Wanderers; as he discovers more and more, things begin to become unsettling. It is impossible to describe the haunting feeling this book brings (I am not a fan of science fiction). Andrei Tarkovsky's movie Stalker was made based on their short novel Пикник на обочине.
Books and short novels:
- Страна багровых туч (Land of the Red Clouds, 1955)
- Извне (From Outside; 1957)
- Путь на Амальтею (The Path to Amaltea,1959)
- Полдень, XXII век (Midday, XXII Century,1960)
- Стажеры (Interns, 1960)
- В наше интересное время (In Our Interesting Times, 1962)
- Попытка к бегству (Escape Attempt, 1961)
- Далекая Радуга (The Faraway Rainbow, 1962)
- Трудно быть богом (Hard to be a God, 1963)
- Понедельник начинается в субботу (Monday Starts on Saturday, 1963) This is perhaps their funniest and most famous book.
- Хищные вещи века (Predatory Things of the Century, 1964)
- Беспокойство (Anxiety, 1964)
- Улитка на склоне (Snail on the slope, 1965)
- Второе нашествие марсиан (The Second Coming of the Martians, 1966)
- Сказка о Тройке (Tale of the Three, 1967)
- Обитаемый остров (Inhabited Island, 1968)
- Дело об убийстве, или Отель «У Погибшего Альпиниста» (The Murder Case, or "The Dead Mountainclimber's Hotel", 1969)
- Малыш (Child, 1970)
- Пикник на обочине (Picnic on the Side of the Road --or The Roadside Picnic, 1973)
- Парень из преисподней (The Kid from Hell, 1973)
- За миллиард лет до конца света (A Billion Years Before the End of the World, 1973)
- Град обреченный (Doomed City, 1975)
- Повесть о дружбе и недружбе (Tale of Friendship and Non-friendship, 1978)
- Жук в муравейнике (A Beetle in an Anthill, 1979)
- Хромая судьба (Crippled Destiny, 1982)
- Волны гасят ветер (Waves Extinguish Wind , 1984)
- Отягощенные злом, или Сорок лет спустя (Weighed Down by Evil, or Forty Years Later, 1985)