Science Fiction Studies

#65 = Volume 22, Part 1 = March 1995

Elana Gomel

The Poetics of Censorship: Allegory as Form and Ideology in the Novels of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

With Arkady Strugatsky dead and the Soviet Union a receding political memory, the continuing popularity of the Strugastkys’ sf in Russia necessitates a fresh look at their oeuvre. This paper attempts to analyze their works as a coherent structural and thematic whole marked by a clash of two generic systems. Though this clash, as I will be arguing later, is a result of specific sociopolitical conditions, its scope and implications far exceed the historical moment of Soviet sf which, for the last thirty years of its existence, had largely been synonymous with the Strugatskys.

In the Strugatskys’ novel The Second Invasion from Mars (1967) there is an episode which encapsulates the social and political constraints imposed upon literature in the Soviet Union. The Martians, having invaded Earth, are successfully establishing a new order. One of their first actions is to close down a provincial newspaper for publishing a love poem which, among other cliches of landscape description, refers to "the angry red eye of Mars."

The target of the authors’ biting sarcasm is, unmistakably, the institution of political censorship. But censorship here appears as more than a brutal force whose influence upon literature is predominantly negative: mutilated texts and stifled opinions. On the contrary, the main consequence of censorship in the episode is the development of a new strategy of reading which enriches, rather than impoverishes, the semantic potential of the text. A stale love poem becomes significant enough to warrant a political intervention only because it is presupposed by the powers that be that the average reader will be able to look beyond the literal level of innocuous banality and to see the hidden message of resistance. This message, moreover, may not have been intended by the authors at all and may constitute an audience-imposed shift in the work’s "horizon" of meaning.

Thus the episode is an allegory of allegorical reading. But, situated as it is within a novel which unsettlingly combines surface features of sf with elements of a parable, it inevitably becomes a self-reflexive indicator of allegorical writing as well, guiding the reader into the appropriate hermeneutic stance with respect to the text as a whole. The Second Invasion from Mars is an especially apposite text to open a discussion of the allegorical strain in the Strugatsky brothers’ writing: while its plot closely follows the science-fictional paradigm of H.G.Wells’s The War of the Worlds, the novel deviates from this paradigm in precisely those particulars which anchor Wells’s masterpiece in the concrete circumstances of its time and place and thus signify its ongoing dialogue with history. The original Martians land on Horsell Common in the heart of England; the world they proceed to tear apart is the world any British contemporary of Wells would immediately recognize as the here and now. The Strugatskys’ version of the Martian invasion takes place in an imaginary land whose connection with our own historical continuum is left deliberately vague. All the characters are given ancient Greek names, as if to signify their atemporal status as dramatis personae in some eternal tragic confrontation, yet the general atmosphere of the book is unmistakably modern. The Strugatskys’ study of conformism and betrayal is situated in a fictional world which is neither a direct continuation of our own nor a self-consistent, self-enclosed alternative such as sf aspires to create. Its connection with history is inscribed precisely in this openness and incompleteness of its chronotope, which requires a conscious hermeneutic effort on the part of the reader if it is to be reconnected with its historical context.

The link between allegory and censorship indicated in the episode of the proscribed poem leads to consideration of allegorical strategies as an element of what might be called the poetics of censorship: a collocation of the ways of reading and writing that are born out of external sociopolitical pressures exerted upon literature. The focus of my paper is the influence of this poetics on the works of the Strugatsky brothers, and in particular, the structural and ideological problems that arise at the intersection of allegory and sf.

I concentrate precisely on those elements in the Strugatskys’ oeuvre that are partially hidden under the veneer of conventional sf plots, settings, and themes, yet run counter to them, constituting another layer of meaning that demands a particular reading protocol which is not automatically available to all interpretative communities. I am interested in the epistemological and ideological implications of these formal elements rather than in the smuggled political content; therefore, I largely exclude from the discussion the Strugatskys’ political views or the specific institutions that necessitated their recourse to the strategies of allegory, textual disguise, and concealment.

Contemporary critical studies of allegory generally oppose two literary modes: allegory and fantasy, with fantasy being a catch-all term, covering sf, the fairy tale, the ghost story, and other varieties of non-realistic writing. The distinction is not new; it is already present in Hawthorne who in the Introduction to The House of the Seven Gables extols the freedom of the romance as opposed to those texts which "impale the story with its moral as with an iron rod" (16), while in "Rappaccini’s Daughter" he self-deprecatingly points out that the writings of "M. de l’Aubépine" (the French for Hawthorne) "are not altogether destitute of fancy and originality; they might have won him greater reputation but for an inveterate love of allegory, which is apt to invest his plots and characters with the aspects of scenery and people in the clouds, and to steal away the human warmth out of his conceptions" (Tales and Sketches 984). Hawthorne presents two charges against allegory which have since become critical commonplaces: its semantic rigidity, the one-to-one correspondence between "the story" and "the moral" or the literal and the figurative levels; and its cold, abstract character which distinguishes it both from the density and immediacy of realistic writing and from the imaginative depth of romance.

The mechanical character of allegory is predicated on its being akin to a code. "In the simplest terms, allegory says one thing and means another," writes Angus Fletcher in his magisterial study of the mode (2). Like every code, allegory is based on a system of correspondences between two semantic levels which, however, must be kept separate if an invariable relation of referentiality is to be established. Thus the allegorical text is always double, split in the middle by the gap between the literal and the figurative, the wrapping and the message, the husk and the kernel. This gap can only be bridged by a conscious effort of decoding on the part of the reader, which gives to the strategy of allegorical reading a distinct rationalistic and intellectual cast, compatible to puzzle-solving rather than to the emotional involvement required, for example, by poetry. This extreme self-consciousness of the mode forms the basis of Coleridge’s criticism which opposes symbol to allegory: "the latter (allegory) cannot be other than spoken consciously;—whereas in the former (the symbol) it is very possible that the general truth may be unconsciously in the writer’s mind during the construction of the symbol" (in Fletcher 17). Huizinga, in discussing the proliferation of allegory in the late Middle Ages, also stresses that "allegory in itself implies from the outset normalizing, projecting on a surface, crystallizing" (197).

Thus the negative critical attitude to allegory focuses on its rationalistic proclivity and its authoritarian control of the play of meaning, which implies dryness and rigidity. Yet the same intellectual bent of allegory can be construed in radically different terms as textual openness requiring the reader’s active participation. Maureen Quilligan insists that allegory emphasizes the process of signification itself and therefore raises the reader’s awareness "of the way he creates the meaning of the text" (28). Lynette Hunter evaluates allegory in a more positive light on the basis of what she calls its rhetorical stance: the interaction of the author, the text, and the reader. Allegory draws the reader’s attention to its own status of textual construction and thus encourages him/her to go beyond the text and seek out its multiple links with the real. "But the stance of allegory, by being overt about its writing and specifically directing us to question epistemology and ideology, can engage any reader in the reading" (179). Paradoxically, allegory appears both open and closed, both authoritarian and libertarian, both flexible and rigid.

It seems, though, that Hunter’s and Quilligan’s praise of allegory stems from a confusion between the activity of reading and the end to which it is directed. It is true that allegory, unlike fantasy, never allows the reader to forget the provisional, constructed character of its fictional world. Yet it issues its invitation to the reader to participate in the production of meaning only in order to narrow down his/her choices to a single prescribed interpretation. It flaunts the possibility of unlimited semiosis in order to encourage the acceptance of the text’s authority in imposing the single correct reading. No doubt, the allegorical text may be read "against the grain," so as to foreground the process of signification while refusing its petrification into a code of correspondences. But the reader’s willful disobedience of the text’s constraints is possible in any genre or mode and does not change the implications of the textual strategies themselves.

Hawthorne’s juxtaposition of the polysemic romance/fantasy and the allegory "impaled" by a single meaning or moral suggests what has become, perhaps, the only point of critical agreement: the two modes are ideologically opposite (however their respective ideological stances are evaluated) but structurally similar, always in danger of sliding into each other. Rosemary Jackson observes this sliding in Hawthorne himself: "The result of an inveterate allegorizing tendency in Hawthorne is an insistence upon clearly articulated ‘meaning’, which produces what Jean Normand has termed ‘petrified fantasies’" (110). Here the "petrification" of fantasy into allegory obviously occurs not because the fantastic structure has been destroyed but because something has been added: the authorial insistence upon the hidden meaning which diverts the reader’s attention from the literal level of the text. Jackson’s predecessor, Tzvetan Todorov, describes the process whereby fantasy can become allegory and points out that, rather than a simple polarity, the modes constitute a continuous scale. Todorov notes that the first prerequisite of the fantastic text is that the events in it are to be taken literally: that is, actually occurring in the text’s projected fictional world. This world, then, appears as fantastic, contrary to our empirical knowledge and experience of reality. An allegory may (and generally does) describe events that are as improbable or impossible as anything in fantasy. Yet various textual indicators lead us to regard these events as signifiers for a figurative meaning which easily fits our consensus reality. Allegory perpetually subverts its own literal sense, preventing the plot events from coalescing into an internally coherent picture of a fictional world which may be judged either realistic or fantastic. Its textual coherence is supplied by the second, figurative, level of meaning which must be reached by looking beyond the surface of the plot events, treating them as discrete units of a code. Yet between the purely literal and purely figurative texts there are numerous intermediary links. "If what we read describes a supernatural event, yet we take the words not in their literal meaning but in another sense which refers to nothing supernatural, there is no longer any space in which the fantastic can exist. There exists then a scale of literary sub-genres, between the fantastic (which belongs to that type of text which must be read literally) and pure allegory (which retains only the second, allegorical meaning)..." (Todorov 63-64).

The close connection between allegory and fantasy (understood in the widest sense of the term as including sf) is especially important with regard to the Strugatskys, whose fame rests on their sf works. To the best of my knowledge, the allegorical elements in their texts, though occasionally noted, have never been the subject of a separate study by either Soviet or Western critics. Even after the lifting of censorship, allegory or "Aesop’s language" has been seen as such an integral part of the Russian literary discourse that the Strugatskys’ use of it appears quite unexceptional. Western audiences, on the other hand, often lack the hermeneutic key to the figurative meaning of these texts. What facilitates this oversight is the fact that a majority of the Strugatskys’ novels are far from the "pure allegory" end of Todorov’s scale. My claim is not that they should be reclassified as fables, but rather that the presence of allegorical elements in them and the interaction of these elements with the general science-fictional framework should be acknowledged and studied.

Sf is a particularly "literal" genre in Todorov’s sense; its specificity lies in the fictional worlds it constructs. Carl Malmgren notes that sf "can be defined by its peculiarly ‘science-fictional’ worlds" and proceeds to defuse the implicit tautology by specifying the features that make a fictional world "science-fictional" (26). Foremost among these features is a deviation from the "basic narrative world" of empirical reality. "A science-fictional world, then, contains at least one factor of disjunction from the basic narrative world created by an actantial or chronotopological transformation" (28). However, once this "factor of disjunction" is admitted, the world built around it must be self-consistent, internally logical, and grounded in scientific assumptions—or at least, it must pretend to be such. "Once the author has posited the representational discontinuity (and there may be more than one such factor), the conventions of the genre dictate that the author thereafter adhere to the laws of nature and the assumptions of the scientific method (like the validity of cause and effect, the irreversibility of time, and the concepts of verifiability and repeatability)" (28). Science-fictional worlds embody what Hunter calls the ontological "purity" of fantasy: its attempt to construct an alternative to the real. Obviously, this "purity" is a rhetorical stance rather than a genuine self-sufficiency; no literary text can escape the conditions of its production, and imagination as creation ex nihilo is a mirage. But, as opposed to allegory, sf emphasizes the literal level of the text, and allows the meaning of its fictional world to emerge through a complex process of cognitive shuttling between the text and consensus reality rather than through a one-to-one deciphering of the narrative code.

The allegorical text must somehow invite the reader to do this deciphering, to switch his/her attention from the literal to the figurative level of meaning. Allegorical reading (what Quilligan calls allegoresis) is a hermeneutic strategy that can, in principle, be applied to any text; allegorical writing is an active textual demand for allegoresis. Fletcher writes: "The whole point of allegory is that it does not need to be read exegetically; it often has a literal level that makes good enough sense all by itself. But somehow this literal surface suggests a peculiar doubleness of intention, and while it can, as it were, get along without interpretation, it becomes much richer and more interesting if given interpretation" (7). In other words, allegory, unless in its pure form of a fable or an emblem, must seduce the reader with a fictional world interesting enough to immerse him/herself in, yet at the same time it must demonstrate this world’s semantic inadequacy. It offers the narrative cake and snatches it away. Todorov notes that the second, figurative meaning is indicated in the allegorical work "in an explicit fashion" (63); but this explicitness is directly proportional to the leaching away of the literal meaning. The more the external surface of the text suffers from discontinuities, unexplained lapses of plausibility, or outright absurdities, the more does allegoresis appear as the necessary reading strategy to salvage sense from nonsense. Thus allegorical elements in a science-fiction work would run counter to the "science-fictionality"—that is, the self-consistency and plentitude—of its universe. They would appear as rifts and ruptures in its chronotope, breakdowns of its narrative logic.

In search of allegorical clues in a science-fictional text, I want to examine Hard to Be a God (1966), which is perhaps the Strugatskys’ most popular novel. It tells of the failure of the cultural "uplift" of one civilization by another: Earth attempts to boost the progress of an unnamed planet through social manipulation by undercover agents, only to find that all the efforts of its social engineers result in chaos, bloodshed, and a worse tyranny than before. The plot centers on one such agent, Anton/Rumata, who is gradually brought to face the central moral issue of the book: whether an intervention in an alien culture is justified, even with the best of intentions.

The novel seems to be a classical example of "soft" sf, engaged not with technological puzzles but with social and ethical problems. The dangers of meddling with the homeostasis of an alien culture is a familiar theme in both Soviet and Western science fiction, developed for example in Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. Le Guin’s critique of imperialism is matched by the Strugatskys’ negative comment on a willful attempt to control history. Such broad political parallels are not only widespread in sf but constitute a necessary element of the genre, part of its strategy of presenting fictional worlds which are situated in a complex relation of similarity and difference to the world of consensus reality. But something else goes on in Hard to Be a God as well, a textual process which undermines the coherence and relative autonomy of its chronotope and requires the text to be read as the encoding of a definite thematic statement about contemporary history and politics.

The integrity of the science-fictional world of Hard to Be a God is belied by inexplicable gaps of plausibility. The respect for the alien seems to be the ideological crux of the novel; but the inhabitants of Arkanar are not alien at all. Not only are they biologically indistinguishable from human beings; their social structure, religion, way of life, even clothing are copied directly from the late Middle Ages in Western Europe, with some broad hints at the shabby Soviet life-style added for good measure. This parallelism extends to the fact that they have horses, camels, and chickens, not simulacra but the real things.

Such an ostensible paucity of imagination is sometimes encountered in low-grade fantasy where feudalism is routinely used as a background for heroic adventure. But the Strugatskys are careful craftsmen whose concepts of both individual heroism and historical development are far from simplistic. The narrative frame of the main story, in which Anton as a child goes down a deserted road and encounters a skeleton chained to an old machine-gun, encapsulates the novel’s sophisticated view of history, which Pavel, his friend, explains as follows: "The road was one-way like history. You cannot go back. But he went. And found a chained skeleton" (Trudno byt bogom 191, my translation; Hard to Be a God, Epilogue, 218). The poignancy of Anton’s tragic choice lies precisely in the impossibility of evading the laws of history which preclude both short-cuts to utopia and a return to the simplicity of earlier ages. Yet the concept of historical uniqueness is patently contradicted by an alien planet teeming with monks, barons, and horse-riders. The novel itself narratively recapitulates Anton’s transgression in doubling back on the unidirectional flow of history.

The Strugatskys could have easily explained away the startling anthropomorphism of their world by a literary invention compatible to Le Guin’s idea of the prehistoric dissemination of the human race throughout the galaxy. Obviously having little to do with modern scientific knowledge, such "explanations" are not rhetorically neutral in determining the generic nature of the text: they mark it as bowing to those "scientific assumptions" of intelligibility and causality that Malmgren sees as shaping science-fictional worlds. The fact that the Strugatskys forego any attempt at scientific plausibility stems from the deliberate strategy of calling the reader’s attention to the inadequacy of the strictly literal reading of the text. A plausibility gap opens the text up to a further hermeneutic penetration. And if the reader accepts the invitation to allegoresis, the meaning of Hard to be a God narrows down from a meditation on history in general to the inscription of a particular historical narrative—that of twentieth-century totalitarianism.

At the end of the book Arkanar is taken over by the black-clad Holy Order, an event that is explicitly presented in terms of a fascist putsch. Don Reba, the king’s adviser and eventual dictator, is compared to Hitler; his grey-uniformed guards are "storm-troopers," while the black "Order" which supplants them after a violent purge recalls the SS. The purge, in fact, is called "the Night of the Long Knives" (127) and Anton/Rumata, foreseeing its approach, thinks that "the history of the brown-shirts captain Ernst Roehm was about to repeat itself" (105). However, in terms of the sociopolitical theory to which the book ostensibly subscribes, such a repetition is a blatant impossibility: history is not a collection of random episodes but a unidirectional process inexorably unfolding through a number of well-defined stages towards the communist utopia represented by the Earth society. Anton himself realizes the futility of tampering with this process: in the conversation which gives the novel its title he explains to his Arkanar interlocutor why even a god-like power is helpless to significantly ameliorate the historically-determined conditions of his country. Within this scheme, feudalism and fascism are totally distinct, non-convergent historical phenomena. And when Anton’s superior points this out to him, all Anton has to offer is a series of emotional analogies: guards/storm-troopers, merchants/philistines, medieval violence/ fascism. At the end of the book, these analogies become textual reality, dominating the diachronic plot of history with a code of synchronic similarities.

This code allows the reader to subsume the obvious contradictions and inconsistencies of the book’s fictional world by superimposing it upon the "master narrative" of the rise of both Nazi and Stalinist totalitarian regimes. The medieval setting becomes a figure for the social conditions of ignorance, cruelty, rampant self-interest, and violence which permit the totalitarian coup to take place; the figure which is based not on any real similarity of historical processes but rather on the commonsensical view of the medieval period as the "Dark Ages." The key to this correlation is the epithet Rumata uses to describe the events in Arkanar: "feudal-fascist" (183).

But if the encoding of Nazi history is relatively straightforward and easy to decipher, references to Stalinism are, for obvious reasons, much more oblique. Among several textual clues is the persecution of intellectuals—not of heretics or witches—in Arkanar: a distinctive feature of Stalin’s Great Terror. Slight as this clue is, it would have been easily picked up by the educated Soviet audience, trained in the techniques of reading between the lines. Read as a political allegory, the main message of Hard to Be a God resides precisely in the parallelism between the historical developments of Nazism and Stalinism which enables their simultaneous encoding in the same literal-level plot. This message reinforces an idea that is, at the same time, its condition of intelligibility: that Nazism and Stalinism are similar, if not identical, phenomena. At the time of the book’s writing, this idea was widespread in the circles of the Strugatskys’ main audience: the dissident Soviet intelligentsia. The Strugatskys’ unrivalled popularity with this audience is largely explained by the fact that the brothers were its faithful spokesmen, saying what the readers already knew but wanted to hear.

If Hard to Be a God is read as an allegory of the historical rise to power of both Nazism and Stalinism, one has to ask what kind of allegory it is. Allegories are broadly divided into personifications and typological or figural allegories, a distinction that goes back to the Middle Ages (Seung 4-5). In personification allegory, abstract concepts (originally virtues and vices) are embodied in separate characters. Personification allegory tends to freeze into a static tableau with a rigid moral. Figural allegory, on the other hand, is based on a system of historical correspondences: a concrete historical narrative is encoded in a fictional plot. Quilligan describes the difference between the two kinds in terms of their underlying structure: "Typology relies basically on a certain way of understanding the connection between specific historical events ... Personification allegory relies on the reification of language itself..." (115). But there are also different uses to which personification allegory and typology can be put to, especially in authoritarian societies. Figural allegory is widespread in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature, its most famous example being Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The History of the Town of Glupov which encodes the series of political blunders, despotism, and dumb suffering that mars Russian history. Because of its concreteness, figural allegory can easily become a tool of empowerment in the hands of oppositional groups: it proposes an alternative to the official narrative of history. Figural and personification allegory are "distinct, but not mutually exclusive" (Quilligan 113); they can be present, in varying proportions, in the same text. Hard to Be a God, despite its topical allusions, contains so many elements of personification allegory that they ultimately undermine its claim to historicity even in terms of an allegorical inscription of a dissident version of modern history. Rather, the text reifies its concrete historical referent into a version of psychomachia, the eternal struggle between good and evil.

The key to the moral allegory in the book is its color symbolism: black and grey. Grey is the color of self-satisfied mediocrity, while black is the color of terror and repression. "When the grey is triumphant, the black comes to power" (145), says Rumata, summing up the whole complex process of totalitarian repression in the diagrammatic formula of the eternal conflict between the grey, the black, and the implicit white—the spiritual and intellectual elite confronted by the philistine masses and their brutal rulers. This view of history is spelled out in Rumata’s meditations on the future of Arkanar, which juxtapose Don Reba, whose only goal is to "destroy culture" (78), and the persecuted intellectuals, the only light in the darkness of fanaticism and oppression. It is, of course, a concept of historical conflict very different from the official Soviet notion of class struggle. But while opposing the Soviet ossification of history into a progression of obligatory schemata, the Strugatskys’ historical view is equally inflexible, reducing the particularity of concrete historical events to a formula of moral abstractions. The general tendency of allegory as a mode is to give ideas "a quasi-visual clarity of outline" (Fletcher 99), to isolate images in an immobile "diagrammatic form" (100). This tendency feeds the stasis of the Strugatskys’ political thought, mitigating against the surface agenda of the text which is concerned precisely with the irreversible flow of history and the uniqueness of each sociohistorical formation. The dominant genre of sf and the subordinate structural elements of allegory work at cross purposes.

Concurrently with Hard to Be a God the Strugatskys wrote more explicitly allegorical political satires: The Tale of the Troika (1967) and The Snail on the Slope (1968). These texts, especially Troika, openly proclaim their status as a coded commentary on current affairs. Their anti-bureaucratic satire gains strength from topical allusions to Stalin and from a black-and-white moral schema (The Tale of the Troika drove its message home so successfully that it could be published in book form only after the advent of perestroika). Nobody is likely to take the antics of its characters or the surreal activities of the Forest Directory in the second part of The Snail on the Slope as constituting an internally consistent fictional world which is to be judged by its own immanent rules. But the clash of the science-fictional and allegorical modes in Hard to Be a God compromises the text’s artistic and ideological integrity, even though the flaw is partly covered by the brisk plot and single-minded thematic drive. The textual problem this clash creates is evident in the deflection of the book’s ostensible purpose to counter the state’s authoritarianism with liberal textual politics. Born out of repression, the poetics of censorship replicates the hierarchical relation of state and author in the hierarchical relation of author and reader.

Since both allegory and sf raise fundamental questions about the relationship between language and reality, since both use strategies of persuasion to make the reader accept their imaginary worlds, their underlying concern, irrespective of their particular thematic preoccupations, is "with power, authority and control" (Hunter 37). Allegory’s relation to political power is two-fold. On the one hand, as enigma, an obscure text whose meaning is accessible only to the initiated, allegory is a language of the literary opposition, flaunting its dissent at the face of the dumb authorities that overlook its secondary meaning. On the other hand, whatever its message, the allegorical structure is inevitably hierarchical, highly ordered, and tightly controlled. It counters the political authority of the censorship-wielding state with its own textual power to define meaning. Fletcher writes: "The mode is hierarchical in essence, owing not only to its use of traditional imageries which are arranged in systems of ‘correspondences,’ but furthermore because all hierarchies imply a chain of command, of order in the secondary sense that is meant when we say ‘the general ordered his officers to command their subordinates’" (23). He also notes that allegory is didactic, breaking the aesthetic criterion of disinterestedness and forcing the reader into "an attitude either of acceptance or rebellion" (306). Allegory stresses the power imbalance between the implied author and the implied reader, demanding the latter’s compliance with the encoded textual message.

In order to be understandable at its figurative level, allegory forces the reader to engage in a constant hermeneutic activity. This activity is tightly controlled by the text’s master code. The more elaborate and esoteric the code is, the greater the reader’s satisfaction at having cracked it, at having arrived at the already-inscribed "truth" of the text. To put it simply, anything so difficult to understand must be worth striving for. Thus, on the one hand, the implied author appears as the only source of truth and meaning, while on the other hand, the reader is flattered by the sense of complicity with the text’s absolute ruler. This complicity is what makes for the enormous popularity of quasi-allegorical writings in totalitarian societies. The readability of Hard to Be a God is partly assured by the sense its implied reader has of being "in the know." The disguise and secrecy essential to allegory invest its hidden message with a rhetorical power it would not necessarily possess on its own. And the only wielder of this power is the implied author, textually elevated to the unassailable position of teacher and prophet.

In the works that immediately precede and follow Hard to Be a God, the implied author’s control of meaning takes the form of manipulating the reader’s response to the gaps and inconsistencies in the text’s science-fictional surface. In "Escape Attempt" (1962) these gaps are even wider than in Hard to Be a God. In this novel a Soviet POW escapes his Nazi captors and inexplicably arrives in the far communist future armed with a laser gun and a perfect knowledge of his surroundings. He joins two young tourists on an interplanetary jaunt where they discover a human-populated planet bogged down in the same mixture of feudalism and fascism Rumata finds in Arkanar. At the end the POW returns to his rightful place in history and dies there. Once again, no explanation is offered either for Saul’s ability to time-jump or for the planet’s inhabitants’ biological identity with humanity. But if in Hard to Be a God the reader is forced to take up the strategies of allegoresis through an identification with the strong central character who constantly ponders on the hidden meaning of history, in "Escape Attempt" the shock of piled-up images of atrocity—concentration camps, naked people in the snow, self-satisfied torturers—draws the reader’s attention to the semantic chain that constitutes the book’s figurative level: barbarism—Nazism—Stalinism.

However, the implied author’s ability to condemn Soviet totalitarianism is bought at the price of taking it out of history. Loss of plot coherence means vitiation of the very notion of historical causality. Chained to a particular interpretation, the text is impoverished; reduced to an abstract scheme, history loses its temporal concreteness. The disintegration of the fictional world in "Escape Attempt" results in the plot stasis, in the accumulation of allegorical, "diagrammatic" images which endlessly gesture at history but cannot inscribe historical continuity or change. This proliferation of signifiers is obvious in the similar books that follow: Prisoners of Power (1971) and "The Kid from Hell" (1974). Still caught in the ideological problematic of "Escape Attempt" and Hard to Be a God, these novels obsessively repeat the same set of images: camps, atrocities, dumb obedience, motiveless cruelty. Like their predecessors, they contain enough indicators to compel the reader into making the allegorical connection between their alternative worlds and the events of Soviet history. But the implied author’s rigid control of textual meaning results in no historical illumination beyond this repeated gesture of recognition.

The concept of history underlying these early novels informs the Strugatskys’ other quasi-allegorical works, especially The Ugly Swans (1971) and The Doomed City1 (published in 1987, though apparently written much earlier). History is seen as an eternal conflict between the intellectuals and the masses, between spirituality and culture on the one hand, ignorance and blind instincts on the other. Underpinning representations of history, this concept transforms figural allegory into personification, a struggle of political forces into a psychomachia of good and evil; a concrete historical experience into a static formula.

Once both the allegorical format and its ideological basis have been perfected, they acquire an impetus of their own. What has been a provisional measure to avoid censorship becomes a crystallized generic form with its own artistic dynamics and internal forces of development. One strain in the Strugatskys’ work consists in the evolution of allegory which progressively sheds its science-fictional disguise and emerges as a genre in its own right. The beginning of this process in clear in The Ugly Swans (1967; published in 1971), a work which originally appeared only in the West and so seemed to be free of the need to placate the censor. Yet it is here that allegory becomes the dominant textual form, as the last shreds of plausibility and chronotopic continuity are dispensed with, and the fictional world becomes a semi-transparent surface through which the ideal shapes of the Intellectual and the Mass can be glimpsed, locked in an apocalyptic conflict.

The action of the novel takes place in an imaginary, apparently Western, country, yet no particular effort is needed to recognize the features of Stalin in its president, a former freedom fighter who has become a brutal tyrant, suppressing freedom of speech, demanding mindless adulation, and either silencing or destroying intellectuals. The protagonist of the book, writer Viktor Banev, speaks for the Strugatskys’ generation of the disillusioned Soviet intelligentsia when he contemplates "portraits in all newspapers, in all textbooks, plastered on every wall—the face that had once seemed admirable and full of significance and now become flaccid and dumb, like a pig’s snout with a giant, fanged, drooling maw" (Gadkie lebedi 87, my translation; The Ugly Swans §5:64). In this swamp of oppression, fear, and passivity a new generation of spiritual supermen emerges: children of the future, cleansed of vice and weakness by the "spectacles" disease (a pun on the Russian equivalent of "egghead"). The novel ends in a sort of apocalypse, with the city, a symbol of the old, philistine way of life, simply dissolving into the thin air by the advent of the supermen. Such moments of cosmic epiphany are typical of allegory (Fletcher 349-59); they undoubtedly provide a sense of liberation from the constraints of material history. But overlaid on the depressingly recognizable depiction of Soviet everyday life, the apocalypse becomes, at best, an expression of mystical longing; at worst, a retreat from history. Not rooted in any intratextual causality, the appearance of the new world expresses arbitrary wish-fulfillment, distinct from that utopian desire which Fredric Jameson finds in sf, including the more science-fictional works of the Strugatskys themselves.

The Ugly Swans was an important personal statement for the Strugatskys who took serious risks in having the book published abroad. As if to confirm its centrality, in 1989, with censorship restrictions removed, they published a book called Crooked Destiny, which is a metafictional comment on The Ugly Swans: chapters from the earlier novel are interlarded with the first-person narrative of its fictional author, Felix Sorokin, who is a thinly disguised compound image of the Strugatskys themselves. His narrative is a realistic depiction of the life of the Soviet writer in the early ‘80s: the system of state control is ideologically bankrupt but socially tenacious, branching into a myriad grotesque bureaucratic restrictions, rituals, and regulations. The issue of censorship, of the state disposal of art, becomes the central one for Sorokin as he worries about the fate of his secret masterpiece, The Ugly Swans. His placid life is disturbed by a series of inexplicable occurrences, modeled on the Satanic invasion of Moscow in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, with the dead author himself putting in an appearance at Sorokin’s dinner table—or, perhaps, only in his imagination. The phantasmagoria of the ordinary Soviet existence are mirrored in the fantastic text of the chapters from The Ugly Swans, which, even though deprived of plot continuity, become a second-degree signifier for the condition of artistic unfreedom that is already represented in Sorokin’s narrative. Crooked Destiny deconstructs allegory by presenting both the literal and the figurative levels simultaneously and exposes the underlying issue of power which shapes the allegorical code. It also unwittingly reveals why allegory, in an attempt to escape the restrictive conditions of its production, ends up replicating them. Both textual levels are locked in a claustrophobic relation of mutual referentiality: Viktor’s predicament offers merely a displaced version of his creator’s engagement with the mechanisms of state control, while Sorokin’s increasingly grotesque existence seems to place him in the helpless position of a literary character manipulated by the whim of the author. The text enacts the relations of power but neither explains nor defamiliarises them, since encoding does not constitute a new vision. The reader is drawn into a web of correspondences which, deciphered, yields nothing beyond the fact of the authors’ power to construct it.

The fact that at the height of perestroika the Strugatskys were still preoccupied with the poetics and politics of allegory points out the structural importance of the mode in their work. What was an external compulsion has become an inner necessity.

This necessity is demonstrated by the publication of a major novel The Doomed City in 1987. It is only fair to say that the novel was apparently written much earlier, still under the conditions of censorship. But published in a different social and political climate, it reads now less like another dissident statement and more like a next stage in the internal development of the allegorical strain in the Strugatskys’ writing.

The fictional world of the novel defies plausibility and scientific logic with a vengeance. The city in question exists nowhere, squeezed between a bottomless abyss and an infinite wall. Mysterious Teachers (whose existence may be purely subjective) gather in this place people from different historical periods for the purposes of the Experiment (whose nature is unclear but seemingly didactic). Various peculiar things, such as a temporary extinguishing of the sun and an invasion of baboons, occur from time to time for no discernible reason.

What prevents the book from becoming a surrealist fantasy is the iron logic of its figurative subtext. The disintegration of the plot results not from free association but from the allegorical tendency to break the textual surface into discrete code units. Deciphered, they coalesce into the psychomachia of the protagonist, the Soviet Everyman in search of salvation. Andrei is a fanatic Stalinist and the novel depicts his progress from blind faith in the leader, through disillusionment and nihilism, to belief in what the Strugatskys call "the Church of culture," the spiritual fund of humanity. Everything that happens to him (including a personal meeting with Stalin) is a station on the road to enlightenment. However narratively disjointed, these events are no more arbitrary than the Redcrosse Knight’s meetings with Una and Duessa in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. They are linked by the invisible thread of moral argument.

This argument is dominated by the Strugatskys’ favourite opposition: the thinking individual and the stupid, instinctual, immoral mass. We have seen how the basic ahistoricity of this opposition runs counter to the historical intent of Hard to Be a God. The Doomed City completes the erasure of history in the form ostensibly dedicated to wrestling with historical choices and dilemmas. The city itself is a perfect symbol of moral abstraction supplanting historical concreteness. It contains people from different periods, countries, and cultures but they all speak literally the same language and face the same existential and ethical problems. Historical experience counts for nothing. Andrei is brought in from the year 1951, his friend and mentor Katzman from 1967. But nowhere is it suggested that the latter’s wisdom has anything to do with his having lived through Khrushchev’s "thaw" and having learnt of Stalin’s crimes. He is merely naturally superior in his attitude to life. Nazis and communists, Americans and Japanese, a man who witnessed the October revolution and a man who witnessed the murder of Kennedy; all are equal in their bewilderment by the city, all have to tread the same path towards moral redemption.

The Doomed City has very few generic marks of sf, and much of its imagery is patently religious in character. The book, however, dithers on the brink of becoming a religious allegory, as if the Strugatskys were unwilling to give up the badge of secular liberal humanism which consistently distinguished their writings. However, their last book Burdened by Evil (1990), which rings down the curtain on their joint career, deals with demons and demiurges, borrowing themes and imagery from Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. It lacks, though, Bulgakov’s playfulness, irony, and inventiveness which prevent Master and Marqarita from being "impaled" by a single theological or political doctrine. Burdened by Evil by comparison is strained and awkward, working out the implications of a belief the authors seem to have little enthusiasm for. It may not be too much to suggest that, at least partially, this sudden interest in religion is dictated by the intrinsic needs of the allegoric mode which has become their generic dominant. All the great allegories of world literature are religious in nature. Allegory, especially personification allegory, requires a shared code which may not be questioned if the text is to preserve its rhetorical force. In an authoritarian state, such as the Soviet Union, political repression provides an external framework which upholds the strength and coherence of the oppositional stance. Once the repression is lifted, an alternative framework is needed and religion may provide one. Burdened by Evil is less an allegory than an exploration of a possible code for creating one.

The development of the allegorical strain in the work of the Strugatsky brothers demonstrates how the structural and ideological opposition between the modes of allegory and fantasy is translated into an intratextual tension when the two inform a single work. Fantasy, and especially sf, requires the creation of an internally consistent fictional world; allegory points out the existence of the second level of meaning by opening up gaps and discontinuities in the narrative surface. Fantasy is polysemic; allegory strives to limit the play of signification and to impose a single strategy of interpretation even if this goes against the imaginative richness of the text. Fantasy appears to erase the implied author, allegory inscribes him or her as the source of textual truth and meaning and places him or her in the position of rhetorical superiority vis-a-vis the implied reader. Hence the ideological paradox of allegory: originally used as a tool of opposition to the authoritarian power, it is itself an authoritarian mode that reproduces the hierarchical relations of power and the rigid control of meaning which mark its conditions of production.

The second paradox of allegory has to do with history. Allegorical elements originally appear in the Strugatskys’ writing in the form of figural allegory: encoded references to concrete events of Soviet history that could not be discussed openly. However, as allegory gathers strength and aspires to become the textual dominant, it roots itself in an abstract formula that subsumes history in the binary dichotomy of intellectual/mass. Thus historical typology freezes into personification, an endlessly replayed battle of virtues and vices. Unlike their science-fictional works, those novels of the Strugatskys that gravitate to allegory do not use the format of "future history." They cannot narratively represent development and change outside the confines of their underlying scheme. Even within each text the plot begins to deteriorate, as the "diagrammatic" stasis of allegory takes over.

Like any code, allegory rests on an agreement between two sides: the reader and the writer. Consequently, it is an "esoteric" mode, requiring a high degree of cultural homogeneity if it is to become at all popular. But not only does it need consensus; it also creates one. Concealment may act as a rhetorical strategy of persuasion, appealing to the shared knowledge of the reader and the writer and constituting them as a closed hermeneutic community. A characteristic example of this strategy is the scene in The Doomed City in which Andrei meets Stalin. The latter is not named, even though there is very little doubt about his identity. The textual secrecy here is not a defense against (already obsolete) censorship but rather a wink at the reader, offering him/her an opportunity to join the exclusive club of the politically initiated.

Though allegory depends on cultural consensus, it is not solely in the eye of the beholder. As a system of strategies of writing, it automatically issues an invitation to allegoresis to any reader, whether possessing the required codes or not. The degree of the explicitness of this invitation, however, depends on the relative weight of allegory in the mixed generic make-up of the text. Hard to Be a God, for example, where allegory is a secondary element, can be read by Western and even some Russian readers as "straight" sf, even though this will involve overlooking some puzzling inconsistencies in the text. For The Ugly Swans, The Doomed City, Crooked Destiny and Burdened by Evil this is not a viable reading option. These are fables where, as Todorov puts it, "the first meaning of the words tends to be completely effaced" (64), so that they have to be read allegorically if they are to make any sense at all. For the uninitiated reader, the success of allegoresis may be limited but the necessity for it is clear.

I have discussed the generic spectrum of the Strugatskys’ oeuvre as bounded at one end by pure allegory, at the other by pure sf, with a large portion of their texts situated somewhere in the middle, where the tidal forces of the two opposing modes threaten to pull the work apart. The Strugatskys, however, have also written works in which sf constitutes the generic dominant, works which provide a structural and ideological counterbalance to The Ugly Swans and Burdened by Evil.

If in Hard to Be a God we see the emergence of allegory from sf, the opposite process can be observed in The Snail on the Slope. The book, especially its second part, is a Kafkaesque fable of soulless totalitarian bureaucracy. There are plenty of topical allusions linking both the Directorate and the rulers of the Forest to the Soviet political oligarchy. Yet the book contains a fascinating—but allegorically unnecessary—depiction of the alien Forest in which the Strugatskys obviously give free rein to their penchant for inventing strange environments. The quest of Kandid, their Everyman, to understand the Forest’s ecosystem runs counter to the epistemology of allegory in which all the right answers have already been given. His exploration is open-ended, resulting not in a quasi-religious certainty but in a quasi-scientific testable hypothesis. Epistemological ambiguity is paralleled by the moral complexity of the text, with no black-and-white moral assurance of allegory. Kandid’s ultimate decision to stay with the villagers and help them in a hopeless struggle against the parthenogenetic Maidens is based on his muddled perceptions and tentative conclusions about the nature of this struggle which may be totally mistaken; but in any case, the Maidens, strange and possibly unhuman, are a far cry from the all-too-familiar evil of Don Reba and his minions. Kandid’s gesture in drawing his scalpel to protect the villagers recalls Rumata’s rebellion against the non-intervention policy of the Institute; but there is no clearly marked moral target here, only a sense of formless menace which defies easy solutions. Kandid’s quest, with its indecisive ending, inscribes a heuristic strategy of sf, while the "rich and strange" fictional world of the Forest undermines the semantic rigidity of the text’s political allegory. Here science-fictional elements sap the coherence of the allegorical generic dominant.

The appearance of the alien, the different, the Other breaks the claustrophobic grip of allegory in which all otherness is ultimately reduced to the familiar and the known. A number of the Strugatskys’ science-fiction works, such as Beyond (1964), Roadside Picnic (1972), "Space Mowgli" (1976), deal with the subject of alien encounters. The aliens in these books are so strange that no direct contact is possible and all the information about them remains provisional, limited by the unavoidable anthropocentrism of the characters and subject to future revisions. The open-endedness of the epistemological process in these books and their relinquishing of the implied author’s direct control of interpretation are in sharp contrast to the hermeneutic closure of allegory. Rather than ordering the reader around by structural compulsion, they attempt to woo him/her by narrative seduction. Paradoxically, by distancing themselves from the immediacy of political concerns, they successfully raise the issues of freedom, choice, and history that remain short-circuited in the allegorical works by the textual replication of secrecy and control.

Roadside Picnic inverts the structure of Hard to Be a God—now it is technologically superior aliens visiting Earth—but with a significant change. If the crucial issue in God is the biological and historical parallelism between the aliens and the Earthmen, the plot in Picnic pivots on their absolute difference. The aliens never directly appear in the novel, only their artefacts do, and Earthmen’s failed attempts to understand these mysterious objects and to get a glimpse of their creators’ intentions constitute the intellectual core of the book.2 As in Lem’s Solaris, the epistemological issue of coming to terms with the totally Other both shapes the unfolding of the plot and regulates the reading process as the implied reader is guided into following the intellectual, emotional, and moral odysseys of the principal characters, all of whom are stalled by their incapacity to fit the totally unknown into familiar semantic frameworks. The Zone remains an empty signifier, corresponding to nothing in consensus reality; but precisely by virtue of its emptiness, it throws into sharp relief the provisional, unstable nature of this reality, delineating its borders as drawn by science, culture, and common sense and broaching a possibility of change. In questioning all cultural codes, the Zone undermines the structural basis of allegory which rests on their fixedness. It breaks up the cozy circuit of mutual approbation between the reader and the writer in which the process of allegoresis produces textual knowledge that essentially confirms what the reader has already known. Like Solaris, the book ends on a deliberately ambiguous note: Red Schuhart’s final confrontation with the mysterious Golden Ball may signify either the futility of his search or the fulfillment of his wish for the utopian transformation of reality.

Red’s prayer/demand to the Ball which is reputed to have a miraculous power expresses the same desire to wipe clean the slate of history which we have seen at the end of The Ugly Swans: "HAPPINESS FOR EVERYBODY, FREE, AND NO ONE WILL GO AWAY UNSATISFIED!" (Piknik na obochine 152, my translation; Roadside Picnic §4:153. Yet here the apocalypse is left, as it were, pending; the book ends with Red’s cry for freedom and happiness but there is no answering transformation which, by its very impossibility, marks the limit of human aspiration. The closure of The Ugly Swans separates the text from the history it encodes and thus leaves it intact as the master narrative to which the book defers; the open-endedness of Roadside Picnic inscribes history’s malleability. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, in his article on the Strugatskys’ fairy-tale paradigm which he largely conflates with utopia, sees in the ending of the book the restoration of the "utopian form as a trace, if only in the possibility that Red’s utopian wish may be fulfilled" (23). But it is precisely this lack of final resolution that denotes the dimension of freedom and choice absent from the frankly wish-fulfilling destruction of the old order at the end of The Ugly Swans. Fredric Jameson reads in the closing lines of Roadside Picnic "the unexpected emergence, as it were, beyond ‘the nightmare of History’ and from out of the most archaic longings of the human race, of the impossible and inexpressible Utopian impulse here none the less briefly glimpsed" (157). History returns not as a master code but as a dynamic process powered by human desire and action at the moment when it is seemingly being abolished in the confrontation with the alien "something" that lies beyond its boundaries.

The collision of the allegorical and science-fictional modes in the Strugatskys’ work is the result of the peculiar conditions under which writers, and especially writers of non-realistic fiction, laboured in the Soviet Union. The poetics of censorship permeates Soviet culture to the extent which, I believe, is largely unappreciated because the political pressure and the writer’s need

either to bow down or to rebel have been taken for granted as purely external factors which might determine the writer’s choice of themes or explain his/her silence but have not been seen as productive of generic strategies and structural paradigms.3 Pressure, of course, deforms; but the literary text is not a passive substance that can be molded into any shape. Censorship supplies the impetus for the recourse to those allegorical techniques of encoding and concealment that allow the writer to speak to his/her audience above the heads of the powers that be. But literary forms are not ideologically neutral; once admitted, allegory takes over and produces its own textual dynamics that carries messages very different from the intended message of the authors: it implies control, compulsion, and the immutability of the given history which is the history of oppression. Even when censorship is no more, allegory is loath to give up its artistic position, returning to the same set of tools that have now achieved the status of a fully-fledged and highly popular generic mode. Sf, on the other hand, opens up the text to multiple interpretations and epistemological uncertainty which undermine allegorical rigidity. It paradoxically achieves a political dimension by placing itself beyond topicality. In the Strugatskys’ work the science-fiction paradigm peaks with Roadside Picnic and largely peters out afterward, ceding priority to the allegorical poetics of censorship.


1. A title in sans-serif type is a literal translation of the Russian title of a book not published in English.

2. See Lem’s discussion of Roadside Picnic which specifically focuses on the artistic and intellectual challenge of portraying the truly alien intelligence.

3. Censorship has been, of course, a constant concern throughout Russian literary history. In the nineteenth century Alexander Herzen, Saltykov-Schedrin, Chernyshevsky and other men of letters protested the restrictions imposed on freedom of speech by the Tsarist government. In the Soviet period censorship was very much the central fact of cultural life. However, with the possible exception of Herzen, the influence of censorship has been mainly seen as restrictive and mutilating rather than productive.


Bulgakov, Mikhail. Master and Margarita. Trans. Michael Glenny. London: Collins and Harper, 1967.

Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. "Towards the Last Fairy Tale. On the Fairy-Tale Paradigm in the Strugatskys’ Science Fiction, 1963-72." SFS 13:142, #38, March 1986.

Fletcher, Angus. Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1964.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables. 1851. NY: Collier Books, 1967.

_____. Tales and Sketches. NY: Viking Press, 1982.

Huizinga, Johan. The Waning of the Middle Ages. 1924. Trans. F. Hopman. London: Penguin Books, 1971.

Hunter, Lynette. Modern Allegory and Fantasy: Rhetorical Stances of Contemporary Writing. London: MacMillan Press, 1989.

Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: the Literature of Subversion. London and NY: Methuen, 1991.

Jameson, Fredric. "Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?" SFS 9:147-59, #27, July 1982.

Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris. 1961. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986.

_____. "About the Strugatskys’ Roadside Picnic." Microworlds. London: Mandarin, 1991.

Malmgren, Carl D. "Worlds Apart: A Theory of Science Fiction." Utopian Thought in American Literature. Ed. Arne Heller, et al. Tubingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1988.

Quilligan, Maureen. The Language of Allegory: Defining the Genre. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1979.

Salvestroni, Simonetta. "The Ambiguous Miracle in Three Novels by the Strugatsky Brothers." SFS 11:291-303, #34, Nov 1984.

Seung, T.K. Cultural Thematics: The Formation of the Faustian Ethos. New Haven: Yale UP, 1976.

Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Burdened by Evil. [Otyagoshchennye zlom. Moscow: 1989.] No anglophone edition.

_____. Crooked Destiny. [Khromaya sud’ba. Moscow, 1989.] No anglophone edition.

_____. The Doomed City. [Grad obrechenni. Moscow, 1987.] No anglophone edition.

_____. Escape Attempt [a volume including "The Kid from Hell," "Space Mowgli," "Escape Attempt"]. Trans. Roger DeGaris. NY: MacMillan, 1982.

_____. Far Rainbow/The Second Invasion from Mars. NY: Macmillan, 1979.

_____. Gadkie lebedi [The Ugly Swans]. Frankfurt: Posev, 1972.

_____. Hard to Be a God. NY: Seabury, 1973. Translation by Wendayne Ackerman of Trudno byt bogom.

_____. "The Kid from Hell." See Escape Attempt.

_____. Piknik na obochine [Roadside Picnic]. Moscow, 1933.

_____. Prisoners of Power. NY: Macmillan, 1977. Translation by Helen Saltz Jacobson of Obitaemyi ostrov [The Inhabited Island].

_____. Roadside Picnic. Trans. Antonina W. Bouis. NY Pocket Books, 1977.

_____. The Second Invasion from Mars. Trans. Gary Kern. See Far Rainbow.

_____. The Snail on the Slope. Trans. Alan Meyers. NY: Macmillan, 1980.

_____. "Space Mowgli." [The Russian title translates as The Little One.] See Escape Attempt.

_____. The Tale of the Troika. In Roadside Picnic/Tale of the Troika. Trans. Antonina W. Bois. NY: Macmillan, 1977.

_____. Trudno byt bogom [Hard to Be a God]. Moscow: Molodaya gvardia, 1966.

_____. The Ugly Swans. NY: Macmillan, 1979. Translation by Alice Stone Nakhomovsky and Alexander Nakhomovsky of Gadke Lebedi.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. 1970. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1987.


The article discusses the generic nature of the Strugatsky brothers’ oeuvre in terms of two opposing generic modes: sf and allegory. Allegory is seen as striving to produce a total control of meaning and to direct the reader’s hermeneutical activity to a specific end, while sf texts are open to multiple interpretations. Allegory is widespread in authoritarian societies as a strategy of protection against censorship; neverthless, it is an itself an authoritarian form whose rigid structure often runs counter to its politically subversive meaning. In the Strugatsys’ works allegory appears first as a subsidiary generic element but its importance intensifies toward the end of their joint career. Their major novels are discussed as structured by the tension between allegory and sf. (EG)

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