Boris Strugatsky: Acclaimed writer of science fiction

 

Boris Strugatsky and his older brother Arkady, who died in 1991, were the Soviet Union's best-known science-fiction writers and, from the early 1970s, gained an international reputation as their work was regularly translated into English. Their Noon Universe is the setting for 10 novels and various offshoot works, written over a quarter of a century, while other stories were adapted for the cinema, most notably Tarkovsky's Stalker.

Boris was eight years younger than Arkady but when the family was split up by the siege of Leningrad he and his mother stayed while Arkady and their father, an author and journalist, left. In 1950 Boris entered Leningrad State University, transferring from physics to astronomy. Five years later he graduated and spent the next 11 years as an astronomer and computer engineer. Meanwhile Arkady had become an editor and translator. In 1958 they combined their talents to begin writing science fiction, making the break into full-time writing in 1964.

In the excitement of post-revolutionary technophilia sci-fi was a popular Soviet genre but it fell away under Stalin, perhaps seen as escapist or dangerously Aesopian. After Stalin's death, inspired by palaeontologist-turned-author Ivan Yefremov, the brothers were instrumental in revivifying it. Following a few technology-driven "hard sci-fi" stories they began to use the genre to explore intractable social and moral questions.

Their major work is the futuristic Noon Universe series, running from Noon: 22nd Century (1962) to The Time Wanderers (1985). Not planned as a series, it developed as the brothers returned to settings and characters. The utopianism seems to mark the victory of communism, but the apparent perfection is the result of easily available resources and an unSoviet lack of imperialistic desires, while a World Council formed of great intellectuals works to bring civilisations into line.

Like much sci-fi there were often political undercurrents: the allegorical elements of Prisoners of Power (1969) were too clear and publication was only allowed when they changed the Russian names to foreign-sounding ones.

The series' loose interconnectivity allowed the brothers to rove over time and space (though often in worlds that reflect some period or aspect of life on earth) and tell the stories from various characters' perspectives. They decided to draw it to a close in the late 1980s, but Arkady's death left the final instalment incomplete. Boris took the pen-name S Vititsky and wrote two more books, while endorsing Noon-related books by other authors.

Of the various film adaptations, the most famous is Stalker (1979), based on Roadside Picnic (1971), though friction with Tarkovsky led Boris briefly to withdraw from writing the script. Though it is set in Canada in the near-future, Western critics sometimes over-emphasised the allegory: the "zone" was a popular nickname for the Gulag. It led to the director and the writers being seen only as dissidents, with the more philosophical aspects of their work being downplayed.

The brothers' work also appealed to Tarkovsky's artistic descendants: Sokurov's Days of Eclipse (1988) about a doctor posted to Turkmenia is the best-known of several film versions of One Billion Years Before the End of the World (1978, aka Definitely Maybe). In 2006 Konstantin Lopushansky, took on the dystopian The Ugly Swans, written in 1967, but banned for 20 years, while Boris co-wrote the post-apocalyptic Letters from a Dead Man (1986). Alexei Gherman has spent over a decade on The History of the Arkanor Massacre, a version of Hard to Be a God (1964), whose hero has to decide whether to topple the despotic leader of the feudal planet he is visiting.

Some Russians were outraged at the apparent similarities between James Cameron's Avatar and Noon's fifth instalment, Disquiet (1965). Both are set on planets called Pandora inhabited by a blue-skinned forest-living race.

When Arkady was alive the brothers made few political pronouncements but Boris later criticised Putin's repressions, discussed the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and signed an open letter of protest at the treatment of Khodorovsky and Pussy Riot. Though doubtless unwittingly, Putin's posthumous tribute echoed Stalin's acclamation of Mayakovsky as "the best, the most talented." Boris recently reinforced the brothers' bleak outlook: "Unfortunately I am a pessimist: I don't believe anything good comes from a large mass of people. As a rule, large numbers of people are bad."

Boris Natanovich Strugatsky, author: born Leningrad 14 August 1933; married Adeleida (two sons); died St Petersburg 19 November 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project