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
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor