Science Fiction Studies

#47 = Vol. 16, No. 1 = March 1989

Vladimir Gakov and Paul Brians

Nuclear-War Themes in Soviet Science Fiction:An Annotated Bibliography*

[* The authors would like to express their gratitude to the noted Soviet SF fan and bibliographer Alexander Lukashin (Perm') for his kind and very helpful assistance. We are also indebted to Dr Birgitta Ingemanson (of Washington State University) for checking the English transliterations of the Russian authors and titles.]

It is sometimes claimed that writers in the USSR have not been allowed to create works corresponding to the vast body of nuclear-war fiction published in the West.1 It is not surprising that scholars looking for such material have been unable to locate it, since the theme has hardly been a popular one in the Soviet Union. However, Soviet SF authors, who have often dealt with the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, have in fact also depicted nuclear wars as having taken place. A survey of how Soviet authors have imagined a nuclear holocaust may be of special interest now that the dangers posed by the nuclear arms race are being brought forcefully to the world's attention by the successful negotiation of an agreement reducing the number of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe.               

Whether the extrapolation of nuclear holocaust will be as "successful" as other SF prophecies is, of course, not our main concern. If a holocaust comes, very likely no one will survive to assess the accuracy of our imaginings; or if some do survive, they will have more urgent concerns than debating literary matters. For the most part, these are not major contributions to fiction, and their style and technique are seldom worthy of much attention (although there are exceptions). It is precisely in what they reveal about Soviet attitudes that their principal interest lies.                

The best-known Soviet nuclear-war narrative is the film Letters from a Dead Man (1986), directed by Konstantin Lopushansky from a script by Lopushansky and Viacheslav Rybakov, in cooperation with Boris Strugatsky. The film has been shown to enormous audiences all over the USSR and abroad, including in the US, where it was aired by the Turner Broadcasting System as a kind of counterbalance to the Spring 1987 broadcast of the anti-Soviet mini-series, Amerika. Recently the creators of the film were awarded the Russian Federation State Award in the Arts—a rare honor in the world of Soviet SF. Letters is a powerful, Bergmanesque portrait of a decadent society retreating underground while abandoning orphaned children as the world sinks into a nuclear winter. The film is in no way propagandistic, it refuses to blame any particular country for the war, religious themes are treated seriously and respectfully, and the ending avoids facile optimism.                

There also exist two Soviet film versions of Ray Bradbury's famous post-holocaust short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains." One of them is Golosa pamiati (Voices of Memory—Mosfilm, 1980), which, although it is only loosely related to the original story, is very like Bradbury's work in mood, tone, and stylistic elegance.2 Nikolai Grinko is very impressive in the starring role of a robot servant. The other is an animated film entitled Budet laskovyi dozhd' (There Will Come Soft Rains—Uzbekfilm, 1984), which follows the original much more closely.3 It contains some striking images, such as a dove which is impaled on the thorns crowning a crucifix.                

These films are of very recent vintage. The theme in Soviet literature goes back much further, as the following bibliography illustrates. Much of this writing has little literary merit, and it often was obscure and not widely read. But this situation has changed recently. During the last decade there has been a considerable increase in the attention paid to this theme, often by younger writers consciously developing a tradition of Soviet nuclear-war fiction.                

It is true that for many years frank explorations of nuclear-war themes were discouraged by Soviet publishers. Not that there was any officially articulated policy on the subject; there was instead an unspoken taboo on depicting a future nuclear holocaust as occurring on Earth. True, holocaust fictions such as Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 were translated and published, and films such as On the Beach were viewed by Soviet audiences; but it was felt by many authorities that the "social optimism" traditionally associated with Soviet writers should make them shun such nightmare visions of the future. Depicting a nuclear war as possible or probable was viewed as a sort of defeatism. The theme was labelled as "Western"—and dangerous for Soviet readers.                

This taboo was not absolute, however. It was possible to depict nuclear-war themes in certain limited ways. For instance, such a war could be the result of a conspiracy by evil imperialists, or Western intelligence agencies might scheme to steal Soviet nuclear secrets. Such propagandistic works strikingly resembled their anti-Soviet counterparts in the West. Writers who preferred a more serious approach often depicted a nuclear war on another planet or even in the distant past (for instance, in ancient Atlantis or even before the Deluge). Nuclear wars could also be depicted in dreams or fantasies, so long as it was made clear that the wars had not really occurred.                

A few SF authors went beyond these constraints and succeeded in publishing more or less realistic accounts of nuclear wars set on Earth. Some of these works escaped censorship on account of the very fact that they were SF and were therefore considered trivial and unworthy of serious attention.                 T

The treatment of nuclear-war themes in Soviet literature developed long before Hiroshima, just as it did in the West. In 1922 there appeared Vladimir Orlovsky's Revolt of the Atoms, and in 1928, Vadim Nikol'sky's A Thousand Years Hence. These novels, rediscovered in the 1970s by Soviet scholars and bibliographers, have created something of a sensation. Both authors foresaw atomic wars, radiation disease, and even a powerful worldwide anti-nuclear movement. Nikol'sky's novel, remarkably enough, depicts a "terrible explosion in the year 1945 which blasted half of Europe."4 After the '20s, the subject seems to have been neglected until the late '50s.                

1957 was a watershed year for Soviet SF. It was the first year after Stalin's crimes were exposed at the 20th Party Congress, and—of course—the year Sputnik was launched. The year was marked in SF by the publication of Ivan Efremov's The Andromeda Nebula, the first full-scale Communist utopia in Soviet literature, a landmark of the period and a launching pad for contemporary Soviet SF. In the prologue to his novel, Efremov mentions a nuclear holocaust, set on another planet, in more realistic terms than had been common before, blazing the way for many others, including the most famous of the new generation of courageous, socially responsible SF writers: the Strugatsky brothers.                

Their 1971 novel, Prisoners of Power, marked another important turning point in the development of Soviet nuclear-war fiction. Though set on an alien planet, its civilization is so similar to our own as to render unmistakable their warnings against the nuclear peril facing Earth. The world of this story has actually undergone a limited nuclear war and is still suffering from the aftermath when the Earthman-protagonist appears. The authors provide details clearly connected with nuclear war and familiar from their appearance in Western SF: weapons "gone mad" without human action, for instance. One of the more remarkable scenes is a tank attack which takes place in the epicenter of a nuclear blast. But more significant than these details is the almost pacifist atmosphere of the novel, rejecting war in general and nuclear war specifically, which is reminiscent of All Quiet on the Western Front or A Farewell to Arms.                

For the generation coming of age in the early 1970s, this novel had a powerful impact, creating a conceptual breakthrough which helped to make possible the changes now described as the "new political thinking." During the early years of the current decade, which marked the final phase of the "years of stagnation," SF led the way in courageously depicting the subject of nuclear war in hitherto taboo ways. This breakthrough was assisted by the development of the "nuclear winter" theory, worked on simultaneously by both Western and Soviet scientists. As the probable consequences of a full-scale nuclear conflict became apparent, attitudes began to shift, both in the minds of politicians and among writers of SF. The topic took on a new urgency. Both established mainstream and SF authors and newer, younger authors contributed to the development of this new body of nuclear-war SF, which in some ways anticipated, and even paved the way for, the drastic changes in Soviet society now defined by the two magic words, "perestroika" (restructuring) and "glasnost" (openness).                

A group of young, highly-talented SF writers emerged during this decade who, if they did not form a self-conscious movement like the British New Wave or today's cyberpunks, experienced similar problems with their own old guard. They faced adverse criticism and often found it difficult to get their works published. But they persevered. Perhaps the greatest success of this group was the making of Letters from a Dead Man, the film discussed above. Paradoxically, just as this group is finding its voice and boldly exploring new themes, it is having difficulty getting published for another reason: at present Soviet readers are fascinated more by old works than by new. The formerly suppressed classics are being published: Doctor Zhivago, We, Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, and even Darkness at Noon. Everyone is especially fascinated with accounts of Soviet history uncovering the secrets of the Stalin years, trying to recover the legacy of the past. Such material naturally crowds out much of the more speculative writing done by younger writers who, if they no longer risk suppression, do not appeal as directly to the popular taste. Soviet SF fans are as dedicated and enthusiastic as those in the West, but they do not make up a large proportion of the readership; and their desires are seldom taken into account in selecting which fiction should be published. Nevertheless, depictions of nuclear war continue to appear in the Soviet press. The theme is now clearly recognized as not only legitimate but important.                

In all this varied body of work one characteristic stands out: Soviet fiction does not treat the theme of nuclear war frivolously, as have so many Western SF novels, thrillers, and survivalist adventure stories. In all recent Soviet nuclear-war fiction, the authors are deadly serious about the subject and view themselves as participants in the world-wide movement towards peace in a world in which nuclear weapons have been eliminated.                

However, they are not so naïve as to suppose that atomic disarmament by the superpowers, even supposing it to be successful, would usher in utopia. It is a sign of the times that they are often interested in exploring the problems which may arise after disarmament (see the stories by Pokrovsky [A42] and Babenko [A47], below).                

Western readers will be able to judge for themselves how the theme has been treated in the USSR as soon as a collection of Soviet nuclear-war fiction (edited by Vladimir Gakov) is published in English later this year (from Richardson & Steirman, under the title The Day After: The Other Side). The book will be divided into sections dealing with war and peace in Soviet SF generally (including interstellar wars), atomic war as such, depictions of the post-holocaust world, and depictions of the post-atomic disarmed world. It includes some items already published in English, plus the asterisked titles in the following, chronologically-arranged list(s).

A. Works Depicting Nuclear War or Its Aftermath

1. Nikol'sky, Vadim. Cherez tysiachu let (A Thousand Years Hence). Leningrad: P. Soikin, 1927. 112pp.—One of the earliest examples of the theme. A standard mad-scientist-threatens-the-world plot. An experiment misfires and accidentally causes atoms to "liberate their hidden energy"; after that, "the great explosion in the year 1945 [!] destroys one half of Europe...."
2. Orlovsky, Vladimir [pseud. of Vladimir Grushvitsky]. Bunt atomov (The Revolt of the Atoms). Leningrad: Priboi, 1928. 237pp.—An atomic catastrophe and the struggle of humankind against it. The author predicts radiation sickness.
3. Èli, Teo [pseud. of Fedor Il'in]. Dolina novoi zhizni (Valley of the New Life). Moscow: Krug, 1928 [first section]. Baku: Giandzhlik, 1967 [complete work]. 403pp.—A very interesting dystopian novel written in the late '20s by a noted Soviet physician, but forgotten until it was published posthumously in its entirety. A mad scientist creates an almost perfect utopia where only androids live. These come into being through a combination of cloning, genetic engineering, and organ transplants (perhaps evincing the influence on Èli of H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau). Their world is destroyed by an atomic explosion caused by a British secret service agent.
4. Nechaev, I. "Belyi karlik" ("White Dwarf"), in Tekhnika-Molodezhi, 1943: no.6, pp. 19-22.**—Perhaps the only Soviet SF story to be published during the war years. A scientist exploring a white dwarf star obtains a fantastic substance from which he develops "atomic bullets." He fires them from a fighter plane at a menacing German Messerschmidt.

[** Periodical abbreviations are cited by year: issue number(s), pages. The issue number is governed by the year, rather than being a "whole number" (in the bibliographic, not the mathematical, sense of the term.)

5. Ivanov, Valentin. Ènergiia podvlastna nam (The Energy Is Under Our Dominion), in Znanie-Sila, 1949: nos. 8-12, 1950: nos. 1-4; in book form, Moscow: Trudrezervizdat, 1951. 276pp.—A typical example of Soviet "spy SF" from the post-war period. Soviet agents foil a plot by Western secret service agents to use an atomic bomb on Soviet territory.
6. Lagin, Lazar. Ostrov razocharovaniia (DisappointmentIsland). Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1951. 470pp.—An alternative-history novel in which anti-fascist and nuclear themes are combined. During World War II, the Nazis successfully test an atomic bomb. The British and American imperialists remain neutral, but Soviets shipwrecked on a small island in the South Atlantic near the test site struggle vigorously against the Nazi effort, with the aid of the natives. In the end, the Nazis are defeated. (For another Lagin title, see A8.)
7. Shagurin, Nikolai. Rubinovaia zvezda (Ruby Star). Krasnoiarsk: Knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1955. 96pp.—A dated, old-fashioned spy thriller containing a story-within-a-story which tells how the remnants of a group of capitalists dwelling on an island destroy themselves in a war combining the limited use of nuclear and biological weapons. As a result of the war, human mutations occur. (For another Shagurin title, see A17.)
8. Lagin, Lazar. Atavia Proksima [the title is a Latin pun]. Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1956. 478pp; revised as Tragicheskii asteroid (Tragic Asteroid). Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1972.—A nuclear explosion blasts an enormous chunk out of the Earth, as in Jules Verne's Hector Servadac. Militarists stranded on this "Little Earth" plot an attack on the mother planet. A political satire typical of the period.
9. Efremov, Ivan. Tumannost' Andromedy (The Andromeda Nebula), in Tekhnika-Molodezhi, 1957: nos. 1-12; in book form, Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1958. 368pp. Translated as Andromeda. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1959.—One of the most important works by the founding father of contemporary Soviet SF. It contains a brief but important episode in the prologue in which a starship from Earth is orbiting a planet which has just destroyed itself, probably with nuclear weapons. The first "awful warning" story of nuclear war in modern Soviet SF. (For other Efremov titles, see A26 and B2.)
10. Poleshuk, Aleksandr. Zvezdnyi chelovek (Star Man), in Pioneer, 1957: nos. 9-12; in book form, Moscow: Detgiz, 1963. 224pp.—An alien visiting Earth mentions in passing that a nuclear war occurred long ago on his home planet.
11. Zhigarev, Leonid. "Zelenyi svet" ("Green Light"), in Znanie-Sila, 1958: no. 3, pp. 21-24.—An officer at the controls of the nuclear missile command center wishfully dreams that the green light will burn brightly forever, signifying safety. This is a lightly fictionalized response to Robert Heinlein's "The Long Watch," which was translated into Russian and published in the same issue.
12. Nemchenko, Larisa & Mikhail. "Letiashchie k brat'iam" ("Flying to Brothers"), in Vokrug sveta, 1960: no. 1, pp. 33-38 and no. 2, pp. 33-38; rpt. in Letiashchie k brat'iam (Sverdlovsk: Sredne-Ural'skoe kn. izd., 1978).—Rebels on a far-distant planet use radiation weapons against the members of the ruling class who are escaping into space. (For another Nemchenko title, see A16.)
13. Kazantsev, Aleksandr. Gost' iz kosmosa (Visitor from Outer Space), in Sibirskie ogni, 1961: no. 7, pp. 3-39.—The tenth planet in the solar system—Phæton—is destroyed by nuclear war. This filmscript was never produced. (For other Kazantsev titles, see A18 and A31.)
14. Leonov, Leonid. Begstvo mistera Makkinli (Mr McKinley's Escape), in Pravda, Jan. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8 and Feb. 3, 1961; in book form, Moscow: Pravda, 1961, 237pp.; rpt. Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1963.—Filmed under the same title in 1974 (dir. Mikhail Shvaitser, Mosfilm), this story by one of the leading Soviet mainstream writers depicts the mid-atomic-era civil defense hysteria, with its reliance on shelters, etc. A strong if somewhat dated satire of that hysteria, containing a dream in which scenes of a post-holocaust world are imagined.
15. Obruchev, Vladimir. "Zagadochnaia nakhodka" ("The Discovery of a Mysterious Object"), in Puteshestviia v proshloe i budushchee (Travels into the Past and Future—Moscow: Nauka, 1961), pp. 5-20.—A poor story, set on Phæton (compare A13 and A31), by one of the leading Soviet geologists. Inside a meteorite a mysterious metal plate is found telling the story of the tragedy of a planet destroyed by a nuclear bomb. When it was dropped into a volcanic crater, it caused a chain reaction which rent the planet to pieces.
16. Nemchenko, Larisa & Mikhail. "Taina Dzhona Glita" ("The John Glit Mystery"), in Ural, 1962: no. 3, pp. 108-12; rpt. in Letiashchie k brat'iam (as above, A12) pp. 44-51.—A scientist sends an appeal for help to aliens on the eve of a nuclear war. They respond that they are on their way to rescue humanity and appeal to Earthlings to wait until they arrive. (For another Nemchenko title, see A12.)
17. Shagurin, Nikolai. "Vozvrashchenie Zvezdnogo okhotnika'" ("The Return of the Star Hunter"), in Zharki (Krasnoiarsk: Knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1962).—Returning from an interstellar expedition, astronauts cannot locate Earth on their viewscreens. Apparently it has been destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. (For another Shagurin title, see A7.)
18. Kazantsev, Aleksandr. L'di vozvrashchaiutsia (The Ice Is Returning), in Don, 1963: no. 10, pp. 69-107, no. 11, pp. 3-110; 1964: no. 1, pp. 77-112, no. 2, pp. 63-111, no. 3, pp. 53-85; in book form, Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1964. 479pp. Often revised and reprinted.—The central theme is the great achievement of building an ice bridge between Eurasia and America. There is an accidental nuclear explosion in Rouen which leads to a limited nuclear war in South Africa. The writing is poor and the SF content weak. (For other Kazantsev titles, see A13 and A31.)
19. Konova, Alla. "Oskolki tiazhesti" ("Fragments of Gravity"), in a book of the same title (Irkutsk: Vostochno-Sibirskoe, 1964), pp. 141-213.— Aliens from a planet destroyed by nuclear war visit Earth. A poor work.
20. Davydov, Isai. "Devushka iz Pantikapeiia" ("The Girl from Pantikapei"), in Ural'skii sledopyt, 1965: no. 1, pp. 33-46; no. 2, pp. 49-63; also in the author's collection of the same title (Saratov: Privolzhskoe, 1966), pp. 70-159.—Aliens flee to the stars from their native planet, destroyed by a nuclear war.
21. Gromova, Ariadna. V kruge sveta (In the Circle of Light), in Fantastika-65, vol. 2 (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1965), pp. 53-182.—In a post-holocaust world, a group of vividly characterized French survivors are waiting in a shelter for radioactivity to decline as they remember their years under the Nazis (some of them were survivors of concentration camps). A powerfully artistic story in which images of nuclear war are only a backdrop for a drama in which all the social and psychological problems of the pre-holocaust world—egotism, ignorance, and power struggles—continue.
22. Shalimov, Aleksandr. "Tsena bessmertiia" ("The Price of Immortality"), in Koster, 1965: no. 1, pp. 25-35, no. 2, pp. 25-39, no. 3, pp. 37-46.— The remnants of an intelligent race are preserved intact in an "immortality field" after a nuclear war on Mars. (For another Shalimov title, see A41.)
23. Slepynin, Semen. Farsany (Farsans), in Ural'skii sledopyt: 1966: no. 1, pp. 39-58, no. 2, pp. 49-68, no. 3, pp. 44-64; in book form, Perm': Knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1967. 163pp.—A nuclear war between two superpowers on a distant planet.
24. Balabukha, Andrei. "Appendiks," in Fantastika-67 (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1968), pp. 199-210. Translated as "Appendix" by Roger DeGaris, in World's Spring, ed. Vladimir Gakov (London & NY: Macmillan, 1981), pp. 179-94.—Interstellar explorers have found many dead worlds, many destroyed through suicidal warfare. One such was wrecked by thermonuclear bombs. Using a device which allows travel into the past, they send an agent to assassinate the scientist who would otherwise have gone on to invent the bomb. The planet, which turns out to be an alternative version of our Earth, is allowed to develop peacefully and spread its civilization into space. However, the explorers lament the killing which they have had to commit, even though it was done for the best of motives.
25. Voiskunsky, Evgenii. & Isai Lukod'ianov. Ochen' dalekii Tartess (Far-Distant Tartess). Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1968. 269pp.—Historical SF novel about legendary Tartess (Atlantis). An advanced civilization has destroyed itself by experimenting with nuclear weapons.
26. Efremov, Ivan. Chas byka (The Hour of the Bull), in Tekhnika-Molodezhi, 1968: nos. 10-12, 1969: nos. 1-7; in book form, Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1970. 448pp.—A vast, complex novel overburdened with ideas on a wide variety of subjects, depicting a far-future dystopia on the planet Tormans (cf. David Lindsay's Voyage to Arcturus). Among other remarks made about the past, it is stated that a nuclear war occurred on Earth some time late in the 20th century, after which hidden missile bases and nuclear weapons survived. The war produced a sharp decline in the population of the world. (For another Efremov title, see A9.)
27. Korotich, Vitalii. "Chuzheniia," in a volume of the same title (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1969), pp. 5-63.—A first effort at SF by a noted Soviet poet, playwright, essayist, and novelist. A physicist has a nightmare vision of the outbreak of a nuclear war.
28. Strugatsky, Arkady & Boris. Obitaemyi ostrov (The Inhabited Island), in Neva, 1969: no. 3, pp. 86-130, no. 4, pp. 85-127, no. 5, pp. 50-140; expanded in book form, Moscow: Detskaia literatura, 1971. Translated as Prisoners of Power: NY & London: Macmillan, 1977.—This fine novel by the leading Soviet SF team is of special interest for the scholar of nuclear-war themes in Soviet SF. The setting is a distant planet suffering the consequences of a limited nuclear war: a radioactive forest, mutants, abandoned but still operating automatic nuclear devices, anarchy and depression in the society, etc. There is also a strong, artistically impressive episode depicting an actual nuclear attack which is probably the best description of its kind in Soviet literature to date.
29. Zeituntsian, Perch. Legenda XX veka (The Legend of the 20th Century). Erevan: Aiastan, 1969. 223pp.—A mainstream Armenian writer retells the story of the American pilot Claude Eatherly, who took part in the bombing of Hiroshima and then went mad (or is he put in an asylum just to stop him from speaking out against nuclear weapons?). Written in a poetic and metaphorical style, the book is rather reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, which was published simultaneously with it in the USSR. The two are frequently compared because they depict war as absurd, although Zeituntsian's novel lacks Vonnegut's sardonic humor. A powerful indictment of nuclear genocide which draws on the tragic history of the Turkish massacre of Armenians early in this century.
30. Bulichev, Kir. Posledniaia voina (The Last War). Moscow: Detskaia literatura, 1970. 287pp.—A good novel by one of the leading Soviet SF writers. The crew of an Earth starship discovers a planet destroyed by a global nuclear war. A technical device helps to resurrect some dead natives, but with mixed results: after being reborn, they continue to fight their war, struggling against the peace-making efforts of the interstellar civilization to which Earth belongs. The scenes of the dead planet are impressive. Although the novel is not entirely pessimistic about human nature, it goes far beyond the rosy optimism more common in conventional Soviet fiction. (Cp. A42.)
31. Kazantsev, Aleksandr. Faeti (The Phætans), in Iskatel', 1971: no. 3, pp. 2-49, no. 4, pp. 76-152; 1972: no. 4, pp. 2-70, no. 5, pp. 31-90; 1973: no. 2, pp. 62-114, no. 3, pp. 87-128; in book form, Moscow: Detskaia literatura, 1974. 464pp.—A von Däniken-type story about the survivors from the tenth planet—Phæton—on Earth. The Phætonian civilization has destroyed itself by atomic weapons. (For other Kazantsev titles, see A13 and A18; cp. A15.)
32. Ankvab, Vladimir. Abryskil. Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1972. 150pp. Excerpts published earlier in Tekhnika-Molodezhi, 1965: no. 3, p. 18.—A mixture of fantasy and SF told in verse narrative. The folk hero of Abkhazian legends, named Abryskil, goes on a fantastic quest, mounted on a "fiery horse," to a distant planet totally destroyed by nuclear war. Only ashes remain. (Abkhazia is a Soviet Autonomous Republic in the Caucasian area.)
33. Amnuel', Pavel. *"Cherez dvadtsat' milliardov let posle kontsa sveta" ("20 Billion Years After the End of the World"), in Ural'skii sledopyt, 1974: no. 5, pp. 44-58. A shorter, slightly revised version appears in an anthology of Amnuel's short stories: Segodnia, zavtra i vsegda ("Today, Tomorrow and Always"—Moscow: Znanie, 1984), pp. 64-92.—A nuclear exchange between the USSR and US is prevented at the last minute. The cause is malfunctioning NORAD radar. The US President, who strikingly resembles Ronald Reagan (although the story was written well before his election), is about to push the button, and the high-ranking Soviet military leader is afraid to do the same. The military leaders of both countries go step by step through the procedures necessary to reply to an apparent attack by the enemy, convinced that the targets they see on their radar screens are incoming missiles. Only at the very last moment is it revealed that the targets are a special kind of fireball, not missiles at all. Parallel to this plot line is an interesting philosophical idea, presented powerfully: long ago, a sentient universe blew itself up playing with "atomic toys," creating the Big Bang and the universe as we know it, which is dying as it expands and entropy rises. The story, told by the dying universe, is quite realistic; and the frame-narrative concerning the fireballs is told entirely without the usual propagandistic clichés of previous years. A really powerful story.
34. Kolupaev, Viktor. *"Kakie smeshnye derev'ia!" ("What Funny Trees!"), in Kolupaev, Gennadii Prashkevich, and David Konstantinovsky's Oshibka sozdatelia (Creator's Mistake—Novosibirsk: Zapadno-Sibirskoe kn. izd., 1975), pp. 39-49.—A father from a distant planet takes his children with him on a cosmic vacation trip. They crash near Earth and see strange "trees" on its surface—mushroom clouds. Although the explosions which generate these clouds are produced by conventional weapons, the imagery is clearly borrowed from atomic weaponry and its message is intended to be anti-nuclear. (For another Kolupaev title, see A36.)
35. Tupitsyn, Iurii. Daliiskii variant (The Dalium Variant), in Ural, 1975: no. 8, pp. 159-83, no. 9, pp. 151-75, no. 10, pp. 155-80; in book form as V debriakh Dal'-Geia (In the Dal-Gei Thicket), Moscow: Detskaia literatura, 1978. 239pp.—Set, like the Strugatskys' novel listed above (as A28), on a distant planet after a holocaust. A grim dystopia with oligarchs ruling over synthetic mutants, whom they use as slaves at hard labor.
36. Kolupaev, Viktor. Tolstiak nad mirom (Fat Boy Over the World), in Ural'skii sledopyt, 1980: no. 6, pp. 54-64, no. 7, pp. 50-63; rpt. in Zachem zhil chelovek? (What's the Purpose of a Man's Life?—Novosibirsk: Zapadno-Sibirskoe, 1982), pp. 3-74.—An allegorical SF fairy tale about an alien invasion. The title refers to the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki (nicknamed "fat boy"). (For another Kolupaev title, see A34.)
37. Iagupova, Svetlana. Soforovoi noch'iu (In the Sophoric Night), in ...I nul'-prostranstvo razomknut' (...And Unchain a Null-Space—Simferopol': Tavriia, 1981), pp. 51-126.—A mainstream novelette containing a story within a story. The internal story is a sort of memoir by the anonymous victim of a nuclear attack on the city, perhaps by a neutron bomb. A grim and artistically impressive post-holocaust nightmare.
38. Pershanin, Vladimir. *"Poslednii kreiser" ("The Last Cruiser"), in Vechernii Volgograd, March 18-22, 1982 (nos. 64-67—p. 4 of each issue). —The world after a nuclear holocaust. The last man on Earth is a technical worker who tends a still-functioning atomic sea cruiser. When a long-forgotten stellar expedition returns, the protagonist looks forward to rejoining others of his kind; but the sea cruiser views the incoming spacecraft as an enemy missile and destroys it.
39. Makaenok, Andrei. Dyshite èkonomno (Breathe Economically), in Sovremennaia dramaturgiia, 1983: no. 1, pp. 34-64.—A fine satiric drama by one of the leading contemporary Soviet playwrights. A classic shelter story: after a nuclear holocaust an underground society in many ways still resembles our present society. For instance, there are still social classes and there is a struggle for power, which in this instance is identified with access to air.
40. Mikhailov, Vladimir. Togda pridite i rassudim (Come Then and Let Us Reason Together). Riga: Liesma, 1983. 351pp.—One of the best Soviet SF novels of the '80s. A complex and detailed presentation of the contemporary superpower nuclear counterbalance, dealing with its political, psychological, and moral aspects. The setting is another planet and the time is the far-distant future, but the subject is clearly the contemporary world situation. The main theme, a rather religious one (the title is from Isaiah 1:18), is that the danger of humankind's atomic self-destruction is merely Nature's defensive reaction against humanity's brutal attack on her. A brilliant combination of two major themes: the nuclear arms race and ecological damage.
41. Shalimov, Aleksandr. "Stena" ("The Wall"), in Vozvrashchenie poslednego atlanta (Return of the Last Man from Atlantis—Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel', 1983), pp. 172-202.—The survivors of a nuclear holocaust discover that the catastrophe has really been a local, not a global, one; life on other parts of the Earth continues. (For another Shalimov title, see A22.)
42. Pokrovsky, Vladimir. *"Samaia posledniaia voina" ("The Very Last War"), in Khimiia i zhizn', 1984: no. 5, pp. 87-92.—The world after a successful nuclear disarmament agreement is achieved. The nations have successfully disarmed, but special UN groups of "commandos" have to seek out and destroy "rebels"—special nuclear bombs possessing artificial intelligence. Because of their brains, these advanced robots may be considered as part machine, part human. The moral dilemma is how to exterminate this dangerous inheritance of the atomic era knowing that they are partly sentient beings struggling for life and appealing to human empathy. The story is structured as a series of alternating monologues: by the "human" mind and by the female bomb. The author of this powerful story states that a mind which could create such monsters has lost the right to call itself a mind; it is a kind of "intellectual perversion." (Cp. A30.)
43. Skobelev, Èduard. Katastrofa (The Catastrophe). Minsk: Mastatskaia literatura, 1984. 349pp.—The nuclear holocaust is the result of a terrorist attack on a military base. The author is a mainstream writer, and this novel is his first SF work.
44. Potapov, Viktor. "Tretii rasskaz Aelity" ("Aelita's Third Tale"), in Fantastika-85 (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1985), pp. 231-42.—A weak von Däniken-type of story dealing with a nuclear holocaust in ancient times on Earth.
45. Romanchuk, Oleg. "Opiat' manevry" ("Maneuvers Again"), in Fantastika-83 (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1985), pp. 204-09.—A missile-control officer takes the steps necessary to launch a response to an apparent attack, but then learns that the attack was simulated: he has been subjected to a surprise training exercise.
46. Rybakov, Viacheslav & Konstantin Lopushansky. "Na iskhode nochi" ("At Night's End"), in Kinostsenarii, 1985: no. 1, pp. 76-104.—An early version of the movie script for Letters from a Dead Man, written in collaboration with the future director of the film. (For other Rybakov titles, see A49 and A53.)
47. Babenko, Vitalii. "Vstrecha" ("The Encounter"), in Khimiia i zhizn', 1986: no. 5, pp. 84-92, no. 6, pp. 72-79, no. 7, pp. 86-93, and no. 8, pp. 84-90.—A thriller in which a special agent of the United Nations has stumbled on a plot by terrorists composed of ex-military and ex-intelligence personnel who have lost their jobs because of a successful world-wide disarmament movement and who now make a living searching for used military technology (including nuclear technology), which is officially to be sold at special UN-sanctioned auctions for scientific and other non-military purposes, but which they wish to use for their own nefarious ends. Although the idea that some of the resources squandered on the arms race should be recovered and used peacefully is an interesting one, the author is no facile optimist, concentrating instead on the problems posed by the aftermath of disarmament. It is expected that this work will be expanded into a full-length novel.
48. Bagrov, Pavel. "Ostrov na tonkoi nozhke" ("The Thin-Stemmed Island"), in Izobretatel' i ratsionalizator, 1986: no. 4, pp. 38-40, no. 5, pp. 36-39, no. 6, pp. 34-38.—An SF filmscript aimed at young adults. After nuclear disarmament is achieved, a group of children accidentally come to an uninhabited island, formerly an automatically-operated military base. It is still functioning; and their playing at being Robinson Crusoes creates a nightmare. Not yet produced as a film.
49. Rybakov, Viacheslav. "Pervyi den' spaseniia" ("The First Day of Salvation"), in Daugava, 1986: no. 10, pp. 74-89, no. 11, pp. 87-89, no. 12, pp. 58-70.—A powerful post-holocaust story set on another planet, where a youngster from Earth accidentally becomes a messiah. The reader discovers that the planet is not Earth only in the last pages of the novel. A detailed description of life, politics, intrigues, and moral decadence in a huge underground shelter complex. A variation on the theme of the film Letters from a Dead Man (the author of the novel is also the author of the filmscript—see A46; also see A53).
50. Adamovich, Ales'. *Posledniaia pastoral' in Novyi mir, 1987: no. 1, pp. 3-60. Translated as "The Last Pastorale," in Soviet Literature, 1987: no. 8, pp. 7-90.—The grim, sardonic maiden effort in SF by one of the leading writers of contemporary Soviet mainstream fiction. The author is well known for his powerful novels about the tragic destruction of Byelorussian villages under the Nazi invasion in World War II. His approach is strongly anti-war, even pacifistic. His latest novel has aroused bitter polemics in the Soviet press, with some military figures attacking Adamovich strongly. The time is after World War III. There are two survivors of the global catastrophe: a new Adam (a Soviet ex-submarine officer) and a new Eve (a Western woman, the last survivor of the last shelter) on a strange island where some unknown physical effects caused by nuclear winter preserve the island itself and the life on it. Then a third survivor—an American—appears. A somewhat Vonnegutian, witty satire reflecting strongly what is now called in the USSR "the new way of thinking for the atomic era." It suggests that there can be no realistic account of the post-holocaust world because a real nuclear war will leave nothing behind. An interesting and impressive, if not entirely successful, effort.
51. Dmitruk, Andrei. "Morskaia pena" ("Sea Foam"), in Morskaia pena ("Sea Foam" and Other Science Fiction—Kiev: Molod', 1987), pp. 8-124. This volume also contains works by Liudmila Kuzinets and Vladimir Zaiats.—A von Däniken-style story about a nuclear war in ancient Atlantis.
52. Glazkov, Yuri. "Chernoe bezmolvie" ("The Black Silence"), in the author's collection of the same title (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1987), pp. 29-42.—Orbiting Soviet and American space crews are shocked to learn that a nuclear holocaust has begun on Earth. A rather weak story by a cosmonaut-turned-author.
53. Rybakov, Viacheslav. "Zima" ("Winter"), in Nauka i religiia, 1987: no. 6, pp. 48-51.—During a nuclear winter, two characters meet: one is a man who has just killed his little daughter because he is unable to save her from progressing radiation disease. The other is Jesus Christ, who has likewise been unable to save his children: the human race. One of the most artistic treatments of "nuclear winter" in Soviet SF. It shows very clever word-play and a mature literary style unusual in such a young author. (For other Rybakov titles, see A46 and A49.)
54. Zhilin, Viktor. "Den' svershenii" ("The Enterprise Day"), in Ural'skii sledopyt, 1987: no. 2, pp. 33-53, no. 3, pp. 33-49.—A good first attempt in the SF field by a young writer who died soon after (the novel was published posthumously). When a Western country physically collapses, it creates a sort of closed universe which functions as a black hole in relation to the rest of the world. Within this closed universe a theocratic dictatorship of armed clergy represses heretics who doubt that this state of affairs has existed forever. A special commando unit comes from outside, from the real world, to lead a successful revolt by a resistance movement against the priest-tyrants. But the return to reality is difficult, even tragic, for the estranged city-dwellers, as in Christopher Priest's The Inverted World. The story also features elements familiar from Western SF: post-holocaust neobarbarians and a savage youth subculture somewhat resembling that in Harlan Ell-son's A Boy and His Dog. Heinlein's "Revolt in 2100," which was published in Russian, clearly influenced this work.

B. Related Works (Again Arranged Chronologically)5

1. Èrenburg, Il'ia. Istoriia neobychainykh pokhozhdenii Khulio Khurenito i ego druzei (The Unparallelled Adventures of Julio Jurenito and His Friends). Berlin: Helicon, 1922; rpt. in Sobranie sochinenii v 9-i tomakh (Collected Works in Nine Volumes—Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1967), 1:9-232.—A very fine, picaresque, pyrotechnic novel about a future war, the threat of which is posed by a maniac bent on world domination who obtains nuclear weapons. It contains a mention of mysterious "radium weapons." The author also uses the term "critical mass" in connection with these. One of two SF works written by the noted Soviet mainstream writer, poet, and essayist, it was first published in Russian while Èrenburg was living abroad.
2. Efremov, Ivan. "Adskoe plamia" ("Hellfire"), in Znanie-Sila, 1954: no. 1, pp. 21-31.—The first Soviet SF story about nuclear testing.
3. Tsatsulin, Georgii. Atomnaia krepost' (Atomic Fortress). 2 vols. Vol. 1—Moscow: Voenizdat, 1958. Vol. 2—Moscow: Sovremennik, 1977. 254pp. (in toto).—Another parody of the typical anti-imperialist story. This time the villains plan to blow up uranium mines in the Pamir Mountains. A space-based battle station is also referred to. Resembles a Rambo adventure.
4. Mitrofanov, Anatolii. Na desiatoi planete (On the Tenth Planet). Iaroslavl': Knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1960. 150pp.—Another depiction of the death of the planet Phæton (cp. A13 and A31 and also A18). A poorly written pastiche of elements plagiarized from various sources (it was attacked on that account by reviewers and critics).
5. Sibirtsev, Ivan. Sokrovishcha kriazha Podlunnogo (The Treasure of the Podlunnyi Mountains). Krasnoiarsk: Knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1960. 349pp.—Depicts a naturally-occurring atomic reactor in Siberia and Western commandoes using "particle weapons." Very poorly written.
6. Toman, Nikolai. Istoriia odnoi sensatsii (The Story of a Sensation). Moscow: Voenizdat, 1960. 296pp.—Three linked novellas, all of which have some connection with nuclear weapons. The title story describes nuclear testing, accidental radioactive fallout, and radiation disease. The second, "Katastrofy ne budet, esli..." ("The Catastrophe Won't Happen If..."; the title echoes Heinlein's "Blowups Happen" [1941]) depicts the cooperative use of Soviet and American nuclear missiles to destroy a giant meteor menacing Earth. This story strikingly resembles in many of its details the 1979 American film Meteor. In the third, "Plenniki Bol'shogo Dzho" ("Captives of Big Joe"), the crew staffing a military command center are imprisoned in it by a nuclear accident.
7. Shpanov, Nikolai. Uragan (The Thunderstorm). Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1961. 349pp.—A very typical Cold War-era novel depicting the attempts of evil imperialists to cause a new world war. The NATO forces accidentally drop an atomic bomb on Brighton, England.
8. Studitsky, Aleksandr. Razum vselennei (Universe Mind), in Nauka i zhizn', 1961: no. 9, pp. 64-71, no. 10, pp. 98-103, no. 11, pp. 92-97; in book form, Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1966. 388pp.—Peaceful atomic tests cause radiation disease. The novel's publication aroused protests from readers, not because of its subject matter, but because of the role of the author—a biology professor—in supporting Lysenko's attacks on Soviet geneticists. The story is utterly lacking in literary or scientific merit.
9. Kotliar, Iurii. "Rasplata" ("The Payment"), in Vas zovut "Chetvert' tret'ego"? (Your Name Is "Quarter Past Two"?), ed. anon. (Sverdlovsk: Sredne-Ural'skoe kn. izd., 1965), pp. 230-57.—After undersea nuclear weapons tests, a mutated "bioplasm" appears, attacks sea vessels, and endangers the US coastline. A poor effort, full of clichés.
10. Emtsev, Mikhail & Eremei Parnov. *"Vozvratite liubov'!" ("Bring Back Love!"), in Fantastika-66, vol. 2 (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1966), pp. 43-92. Translated as Everything But Love. Moscow: Mir Publishers, 1973; rpt. in Countdown to Midnight: Twelve Great Stories About Nuclear War, ed. H. Bruce Franklin (NY: DAW, 1984), pp. 208-66.—The memories, meditations, and fantasies of a nuclear physicist dying of radiation poisoning, which he incurred when he sleepwalked onto the testing site of a new type of atomic weapon which uses neutrons to irradiate life while leaving structures intact (like the neutron bomb discussed in the decade after the story was written). The responsibility of bomb-builders is compared to that of the builders of the Nazi death camps.
11. Sergeev, Dmitrii. "Koloda kart iz antimira" ("A Pack of Cards from the Anti-World"), in Angara, 1968: no. 4, pp. 52-60.—A parallel-world story in which survivors of a devastating nuclear war live in underground shelters.
12. Dlugolensky, Iakov. "Vstrecha" ("The Meeting"), in the author's Zapovednoe ozero (Enchanted Lake—Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel', 1977), pp. 223-53.—On a distant planet a group of Earthmen meet a group of warriors from another world. They have exiled themselves from their own system after having destroyed it with atomic missiles.
13. Shpakov, Iurii. "Detonator," in Ispytanie na prochnost' (The Stress Test—Alma-Ata: Zhalyn, 1977), pp. 49-60.—Not seen, but probably about the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.
14. Aitmatov, Chingiz. I dol'she veka dlitsia den' (And the Day Lasts Longer Than the Age), in Novyi mir, 1980: no. 11, pp. 3-185; in book form, Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1981. 304pp. Translated into English by John French as The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years—Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1983.—One half of this novel concerns US-USSR nuclear deterrence (vis-à-vis the joint Soviet-American aircraft carrier The Parity in the Atlantic, etc.) joined to a treatment of the problem of first contact with extraterrestrials. The second half is a philosophical tale, not really SF at all. Although it has been well received by many critics (see for instance Birgitta Ingemanson's notice in the Fall 1984 Slavic Review, p. 527), it is an only partially successful hybrid—half SF and half mainstream—by one of the leading Soviet prose writers, a recent candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature.
15. Tupitsyn, Iurii. Taina inzhenera Greivza (The Secret of Engineer Graves). Volgograd: Nizhne-Volzhskoe kn. izd., 1981. 288pp.—International terrorists prepare to use a radio to detonate a small atomic device hidden in a South African uranium mine in order to create a seemingly accidental explosion and thereby provoke a nuclear crisis (the non sequitur is Tupitsyn's). They are foiled. This novel, presented as depicting "Western life," was received by reviewers as an unintentionally absurd parody of Western thrillers, even though Tupitsyn was deadly serious.
16. Cherniak, Viktor. "Sezon okhoty na liudei" ("Manhunt Season"), in Studencheskii meridian, 1983: no. 10, pp. 17-23, 26-27, no. 11, pp. 20-29, no. 12, pp. 17-23, 26-29.—An international thriller about a CIA plot to provoke a nuclear war. The President is ready to push the button; but a more reasonable Senator and his pretty secretary succeed— improbably—in changing the secret codes on the presidential black box, preventing him from launching the missiles. A Soviet analogue to Seven Days in May.


                1. See, for instance, Patrick L. McGuire's comments on Soviet treatments of the nuclear-war theme in his chapter "Forbidden Themes and Devices," in Red Stars: Political Aspects of Soviet Science Fiction (Ann Arbor, MI: 1985). His views are repeated in the third edition of Anatomy of Wonder, 2nd ed., ed. Neil Barron (NY: 1987), p. 448. Some years ago, Vladimir Gakov had an exchange of letters with H. Bruce Franklin, who was then in the process of editing Countdown to Midnight and searching for Soviet nuclear-war fiction available in English. According to his letters, he found none, except Emtsev and Parnov's "Bring Back Love!" When Paul Brians was working on his Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984 (Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1987), he similarly consulted several experts on Soviet literature and was told by all of them that depictions of nuclear war were not permitted in the USSR. But see V. Gakov, "SF Writers on the March for Peace," Soviet Literature, 1984: no. 2, pp. 158-65; also see Brians, "SF Summit in Moscow," Locus, Oct. 1987, pp. 29, 32.
                2. Script by Georgii Nikolaev, directed by Viktor Zhilko: 30 minutes.
                3. Directed by Nazir Tuliakhodzhaev: 20 minutes.
                4. See also Darko Suvin's discussion of Nikol'sky in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (New Haven, CT: 1979), pp. 253, 261-62.
                5. Whereas the titles in Part A depict nuclear war as having actually occurred, the "Related Works" deal with the threat of such a war.

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