Candide went on. His head was fairly clear this morning, he felt he could think and so he began to think […] His thoughts flowed freely, even somehow mechanically, during the past month they had cut themselves fixed and familiar channels, and Candide knew beforehand what emotions would appear in his mind next. This, he reflected, is what our village calls ‘thinking’. Here come the doubts now… […] — “Snail on the Slope / Forest”, Strugacky brothers
Strugacky brothers debuted in the late 50s with fairly standard socialist-realist sci-fi about bright future in a communist world, but in less than ten years their writing deviated from the line to such an extent that they were unable to publish anything important without crippling editorial changes, and were reduced to serializing their work in small magazines in backwater towns. Strugackys’ brilliant satire of the late Soviet realities made them very popular among the intelligentsia and their children, although Generation Y’s such as myself need extensive footnotes (or input from the elder generation) to understand the satire properly.
One of Strugackys’ running themes is the human dimension of progress. “The Final Circle of Paradise” (1965) tells the story of a resort city overflowing with material abundance, dying of boredom and thirsting for ever new distractions and excitements, that finally finds the ultimate in distraction and excitement — ‘sleg’, what we would call today a virtual reality generator (remember, the novel was written in 1965). Ivan Zhylin, a UN security officer who discovers the nature of sleg and tries it himself, is horrified by a vision of the future where everyone retreats into sleg-induced personal universes, which are ‘much more poignant than the real world’. The whole novel, including the countermeasure Zhylin suggested to his superiors — ‘a hundred-year world-view restoration and development plan’ — sounds very modern and topical today. Other novels concern the conflict between a more advanced, benevolent (by its own lights) civilization and a less advanced one, and the toll this conflict takes on individuals on both sides.
Interesting as Strugackys are, they were not blessed with good English translators and are forgotten. In fact, the translations I read were so bad that I could reasonably hope to do better, were it not that the project would take rather more time and effort than I have available. However I will attempt from time to time to publish passages which I find particularly modern and insightful.