Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, May 15, 2020


Path into the Unknown:  The Best of Soviet Science Fiction, edited anonymously (1966)

In her introduction to the 1968 Dell paperback edition of this book, Judith Merril writes, "[This] is the first soviet science-fiction anthology we have had which suits current American tastes."  That is probably true.  Previously anthologies such as Destination:  Amaltheia (1960), Soviet Science Fiction, and More Soviet Science Fiction (both 1961 -- the paperback reprints from Colliers added introductions from Isaac Asimov) are marked with clunky writing and/or translations.  (Although it should be noted that More Soviet Science Fiction contains Ivan Yefremov's classic (?) science fiction story "Heart of the Servant," noted mainly for being a Soviet response to Murray Leinster's "First Contact.")  Mirra Ginsberg's pivotal anthology Last Door to Aiya did not appear until 1968.

Path into the Unknown does contain some better writing, some better translating, and more universal themes than its predecessors, although a lot of this is a judgment call.  It should be noted that the translator (or, more likely, translators) is not identified.  The assistance of  the Novosti Publishing House (APN) made this collection possible, so perhaps they provided the stories and the translations.  All eight stories were originally published from 1960-1965, according to ISFDb.

The stories:

  • Ilya Varshavsky, "The Conflict" (1964)  A very short piece,  A robotic nanny, much smarter than the humans she works for, would contemplate suicide if not for her maternal affection for their child.  Ed Ferman reprinted this one in the August 1967 issue of F&SF.
  • Ilya Varshavsky, "Robby" (1962)  Another short about a robot.  A man is given a very annoying robot for his 50th birthday.  Only his sharp-tongued mother-in-law appreciates the robot.
  • Vladislav Krapivin, "Meeting My Brother" (1963)  A novelette about a man who had been in space for 300 years and his eleven-year-old brother from Earth.  Merril called this maudlin tale  a "sensitively written romance."  I found the writing to be reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's, albeit jerkier, clumsier, and less thought out.  Each to their own.
  • Sever Gansovsky, "A Day of Wrath" 1965)  Merril did not care for this one:  "I will be frank to say it infuriated me...[because of] an attitude I violently dislike."  I thought it was one of the best stories in the book.  Merril was a perceptive critic and I am a somewhat cloddish reader, so who's to say who's right?  Where Merril found a distasteful xenophobia, I found an exciting tale of survival against a mutant race far smarter than humans but without empathy.  Gansovsky's Otarks blithely eat both humans and one another without compunction.  A government agent is sent to report on them to determine what their fate should be.
  • Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, "An Emergency Case" (1960)  A fly suddenly appears on an inter-planetary ship passing through the Asteroid Zone.  Where did it come from?  And it has...eight legs?  Wait.  It's not one fly.  There's another.  And another.  And more.  And many, many more...
  • Arkady Strugatsky, "Wanderers and Travellers" (1963)  Arkady Strugatsky went solo on this tale, "an evocative, mood-making piece which leaves all ideological anthropocentricity (Eastern or Western) far behind,"  (Merril again.)  For centuries the underwater race of septopods lived deep underwater; now they are rising to the surface and are being tracked and studied by humans.  At the same time mankind is leaving the earth and entering space...will they too be tracked and studied by more advanced creatures?
  • G[ennady] Gor, "The Boy" (1965)  A teen-age boy submits an unfinished story as a homework assignment.  It's about the only child on an interstellar journey, born ten years after the flight began.  The story is both prosaic and haunting -- far from the rollicky adventure one might expect from a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boy -- and it has captured the attention of his classmates.  The author's father is a noted archeologist who had gained fame by discovering evidence of extraterrestrials visiting Earth during the Jurassic period.  Could the boy who wrote the story be an "informative double" of the aeons-old subject of the story?   A dash of mysticism, a dash of ESP, and a dash of science combine with an interesting depiction of teen-age boys.  Not one's stereotypical view of Soviet Russia at the time.
  • Anatoly Dneprov, "The Purple Mummy" (1961)  The narrator investigates when he discovers his wife is the exact double (minus coloration) of a purple mummy listed in a  museum catalogue.  The mummy is actually a detailed (inside and out) plastic replica sent by cosmic rays from a distant star system.  Because its organs are completely reversed, scientists theorize that it came from an anti-matter planet.-- just because..  Written (or translated) in a half comic style that doesn't quite come off.  This is the one story in the collection that Merril did not discuss in her introduction.
With the exception of the first story, none appear to have been reprinted for the general 
American public.  It's an interesting collection for who are interested in stories that have begun to diverge from the Soviet polemic.  Several of the stories could easily have found a home in the English language SF magazines of the day.  For the most part, though, I feel the general reader would be better served with many of the later stories from Russia that have proliferated the science fiction field since the 1960s. 

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