Boris Strugatsky

Translator’s Introduction

This is not, strictly speaking, a derivative work.  In 1999, an online collection of ABS’ works started by a group of enthusiasts has become the official ABS Web site (essentially, Boris Strugatsky gave his explicit blessing to the online publication of ABS’ complete works and wrote a series of afterwords to ABS’ books that were also published online).  The afterword to Waves Calm the Wind, incidentally, contained a discussion of a novel that was in early stages of development when Arkady Strugatsky died.  We are pleased to publish an excerpt discussing this unwritten novel.  The original Russian afterword in its entirety can be found here.

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The Waves turned out to be the sum total.  All our characters have grown hopelessly old; all problems once posited have found their solutions (or else, turned out to be unsolvable); we even explained to the (thinking) reader who the Wanderers are and where they come from, for our Ludens are indeed Wanderers—or, more precisely, one race of Wanderers spawned by the civilization of Earth.  There was, however, one story in Noon series that was conceived, but remained unwritten, the story of Maxim Kammerer’s infiltration into the mysterious bowels of the dreaded Ocean Empire.

The legends of this unwritten novel still circulate among the fans; I have heard people say that they knew for sure that the novel was at least half-written and released by the authors “into the wild”; some even claimed to have held the true manuscript in their hands…  Sorry to disappoint.  The novel HAS NOT BEEN WRITTEN, it wasn’t even thought out all that well. Here’s its brief outline:

  • Prologue. The Rotten Archipelago
  • Part I. The Coast Line
  • Part II. Forests and Fields
  • Part III. The Circle of Sunlight
  • Epilogue

The novel was supposed to take place fairly soon after the events of A Beetle in an Anthill, five or so years later, and long before The Great Revelation.  The prologue was indeed developed in some detail.  Boris could write it in a few days (it would be a dozen of pages), but he doesn’t want to do it; he has neither the interest nor an understanding of the purpose.  Part I was well thought out, with key episodes sketched out, but lots of important details are still missing.  Part II was generally clear in terms of its outline, with a few episodes.  Part III was barely mapped out.  Only one episode of that part was ever developed, the final one (see the quote from Boris Strugatsky’s foreword to The Time of Apprentices below).  As to the epilogue, it was supposed to be some kind of closing commentary by, say, Grisha Serosovin (or another COMCON agent). But on that, there wasn’t even a faintest idea.

In his foreword to an anthology titled The Time of Apprentices, Boris wrote about this novel,

In the last novel by the Strugatsky brothers, which was to some extent developed but to no degree written; in a novel that even didn’t have a name (not even a working title); in a novel that will never be written because the Strygatsky brothers are no more while S. Vititsky has no desire to write it alone—that novel was interesting to the authors because of two things they made up.

First, they liked (for its originality and non-triviality) the world of the Island Empire built with a pitiless rationality of a Demiurge who has despaired to root out the evil.  This world had three circles in it.

The outer circle was a cloaca, a gutter, the hell of the world; the bottom feeders of the society ended up there; the drunks, the riffraff, the worthless, sadists and natural-born killers, rapists, bullies, perverts, monsters, moral mutants—in short, pus, refuse, and fecal matter of the community.  It was THEIR realm, there was no punishment, they lived by laws of force, baseness, and hate.  By this circle, the Empire separated itself from the rest of the world, held its defense and struck out.

The middle circle was populated by common people not prone to excess, people just like you and I; a little worse, a little better, far from being angels, but in no way being demons.

And in the center, there was the Realm of Justice.  Noon, 22nd century.  A warm, welcoming, safe world of high spirit, creativity, and freedom, populated exclusively by talented, wonderful, friendly people who duly follow the tenets of the highest morality.

Every person born into the Empire inevitably ended up in “their” circle; the society gently (and sometimes rudely) displaced them to where they belonged, according to their talents, temperament, and moral potential.  This displacement occurred both automatically and through a specific social mechanism (some sort of vice police).  It was a world ruled by the principle of “to each, his own” in its broadest interpretation.  Hell, Purgatory, Paradise.  Classic.

Second, the authors really liked the ending they made up.  Maxim, having come through all the circles and made it into the center, is shocked by his observations of life in heaven, not at all different from life on Earth; while conversing with a high-ranked and highly intelligent local, learning from him the details of the Empire’s inner workings, and trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, think through the unthinkable, and connect the unconnectable, he suddenly hears a polite question, “Is your world built differently?”  He starts explaining the High Theory of Upbringing, the role of Teachers, the painstaking work on every child’s soul…  The local listens, smiles, nods, and then notes as if in passing, “Exquisite.  A beautiful theory.  But, unfortunately, absolutely not realizable in practice.”  And as Maxim looks at him, dumbfounded, the local utters a phrase which was the most important reason for the Strugatsy brothers to write this novel.

“The world can’t work the way you just described,” the local said.  “This kind of world can only be made up.  I’m afraid, my friend, you’re living in a world made up by someone, before you came along and without your participation, and you don’t have a clue about it…”

The authors thought it would be the last word in Maxim Kammerer’s biography.  It had to conclude the Noon Universe series.  It would be the sum total of a certain worldview.  Its epitaph.  Or perhaps its verdict?

It was this novel that ABS thought about during their last get-together in January 1991 in Moscow.  (“18 January 1991.  Wrote letters.   Once again, discussed Operation Virus…”)  I distinctly remember that our discussion was anemic, reluctant, without enthusiasm.  The times were troublesome and uncomfortable; Desert Storm was rolling out in Iraq; in Vilnius, the Alpha team stormed the TV newsroom; the boil of the upcoming coup d’état was getting ready to burst, so the adventures of Maxim Kammerer in the Island Empire didn’t seem all that exciting; it felt strange and somewhat indecent to make them up.  Arkady felt very sick, we both were nervous and fought a lot…  It was our last time together, but of course, neither of us knew that and couldn’t even think about it…

But why does it sometimes seem to me that this novel, or one very much like it, will nevertheless be written at some point?  Not by the Strugatsky brothers, of course.  And not by S. Vititsky.  But by whom?