We Modern People
Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Wesleyan University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
This book is about the alternative worlds of science fiction, but writing it would not have been possible without the help of many real people. First and foremost, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the people who were involved in the very first stages of its inception and the very last stages of its completion. Although this book has morphed into something quite different than the dissertation I wrote at the University...
INTRODUCTION: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity
Opening the fifth- anniversary issue of Nature and People (Priroda i liudi) in 1894, this editorial note redefined the narrative parameters of a pioneering popular science journal in Russia.1 Three decades later in 1923, Yevgeny Zamyatin—author of the landmark dystopian novel We (My), which George Orwell acknowledged as an inspiration for 19842—designated nauchnaia fantastika, or scientific fantasy, “the...
1 CONQUERING SPACE
In 1889, the Petersburg publishing house of P. P. Soikin launched a new magazine called Nature and People. The masthead of this “illustrated popular science journal for family reading” claimed to “bring the world into every Russian living room.” Five years later, an almanac published intermittently since 1860 called Around the World was revamped into an illustrated weekly specializing in “geography...
2 TRANSCENDING TIME
The same cinematic medium that transported Russian science fiction into Siberia, the air, and outer space also transformed representations of the here and now in remarkable ways. In a story titled “Only Details” (“Tol’ko detal’”), published in 1924, the Futurist Nikolai Aseev presented a stereoscopic picture of everyday life changing before the very eyes of the reader. By speeding up the crank, the narrator blurs...
3 GENERATING POWER
“Communism is equal to Soviet power plus the electrification of the entire country” (Kommunizm est’ sovetskaia vlast’ plius elektrifikatsiia vsei strany). These were the terms in which Lenin reportedly conveyed the Party’s approval of the plan forwarded by the newly formed State Commission for the Electrification of Russia, abbreviated as GOELRO, in November 1920. Still standing in tall letters above Moscow’s...
4 CREATING THE HUMAN
The same “soul” or ineffable essence that transformed electrical technology into a vital force of resurrection in Soviet Russia becomes a potentially fatal liability in the future world of Zamyatin’s We. The novel ends with the chilling description of a medical treatment designed to cure deviant citizens that involves the surgical removal of a growth in the brain that houses the soul. The narrator D- 503 undergoes...
AFTERWOR(L)D: Russian Science Fiction and the Unmaking of Modernity
These are the terms in which Zamyatin described the brief period of efflorescence, poised between the dominant paradigms of nineteenth- century “bourgeois” and twentieth- century “socialist” realism, examined in this book. The preceding chapters document not just the intersection of scientific and aesthetic “projections” as Zamyatin describes, but also the ways in which they affect the “real” categories...
Other than Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, which emerged as a cult classic in the late 1980s and has been revised and retranslated twice in the last two decades, early Russian science fiction is accessible to English-speaking readers only in a fragmented, selective way. Even landmark texts such as Alexander Bogdanov’s Red Star and Alexei Tolstoy’s Aelita did not get translated until the mid-1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika was already announcing the collapse of the...
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