Kir Bulychëv, selected stories

small photograph of Bulychev

Kirill Bulychëv (1934-2003), who used the nickname "Kir" in his nom de plume, was trained as a historian (MA 1965; PhD 1981; he began writing science fiction in his 30s, towards the end of the "Thaw" period, when SF was flowering in the USSR under the warmer cultural conditions the term suggests. Even after Leonid Brezhnev became First Secretary and the country entered the phase we now call Stagnation, science fiction remained a viable genre (with, as we'll see, some rather profound works among the gee-whiz or ho-hum stuff). Bulychëv also translated some American SF into Russian and wrote film scripts.

See: for interesting information about Bulychëv, whose last name is pronounced "Bulychyof," and a list of his works.

Questions for reading

  1. Who is Theodore Sturgeon, and why would he have been asked to write an introduction to a translated book of Soviet SF?
  2. Sturgeon writes about KB, "He is nt concerned with ways and means, nuts and bolts [of technology]. He is concerned, and profoundly so, with people" Do you agree, as you read?
  3. How does science fiction more concerned with people than with science compare to other works you have read (in this class or on your own time)?
  4. In "I Was the First to Find You," what are the associations of the ship's name (Spartak = the Spartacus)? Any Any associations with the various characters' names? (Most of them sound Russian.)
  5. What does this story suppose about the nature of time and the evolution of the technology of space travel?
  6. Besides the cruel joke of not being the first ship of Earthlings to find the planet, what is the significance of their finding the pyramid?
  7. Does the precision of the dating (easy math tells us the current date is 2187 - meaning that they left Earth in 1987!) impact your reading of the story?
  8. Here and elsewhere: what might have made SF authors feel (and their readers perhaps agree) that interplanetary and even interstellar space travel would already happen in the 1980s or 1990s?
  9. What can we tell about the character of Arthur Sheno, who appears in the final paragraphs of the story?
  10. Here and elsewhere: how do cosmonauts feel about their predecessors, and how do people on earth think of them?
  11. In "May I Please Speak to Nina," would you say this is a different kind of science fiction - or something more like an episode of the Twilight Zone?
  12. How do the two characters (and the reader) gradually figure out what is going on?
  13. How many of the tidbits of Soviet history are familiar to you? Questions about any of them?
  14. Why would the Second World War leave such a deep trace in writing of the 1960s and 1970s?
  15. What is the effect of the ending?
  16. Re "Snowmaiden" (pp. 103-113): do you know the original story? (The versions we have, including Rimsky-Korsakov's opera based on Ostrovsky's play, have folk elements but aren't really folktakes.)
  17. At the top of p. 105: Bulychëv does imagine intelligence (even great artistic and moral gifts!) in a non-human creature, but then presents us with this very foxy blond cosmo-babe! An ammonia-based lifeform that nonetheless looks human: how close is that to us chemically and biologically, as compared to the 6-meter spider?
  18. What do you think of Bulychëv's move of having the characters themselves debate the plausibility of the science he has introduced (p. 106)?
  19. How does this work as a romance story - or an anti-romance?
  20. For the creative writers among you: note the double meaning of the elegant and economical last few lines.
  21. On the other hand, how does B's writing style compare to Lem's?
  22. Re "The Empty House" (pp. 156-68): what are these space explorers looking for? How does it compare to the excerpt we read from Aelita?
  23. How likely is it that a planet with such an elliptical orbit would have an atmosphere of "the normal terrestrial type"? (Do planets evolve according to Marxist laws too, the way human beings and human societies do?)
  24. How do our explorers behave in this deserted place? How do they treat the houses and things - why don't they loot and pillage? What is the purpose of their mission?
  25. Comment on the other science implied in the story - the planet's orbit, the time towers, the Brain that cracks the language and then the boxes that do the translation (but without the nuances or emotional intonations!).
  26. For the linguists among us: how much do the language-cracking Brain and the boxes that translate reflect a science fiction of artificial intelligence parallel to the space exploration?
  27. What is the role of romance in the stories we have read by Bulychëv?
  28. How would you describe the gender relations here and in the other stories? Why does Dela accept the name Christina?
  29. Note the departure from high-pathos Socialist Realism (cf. Efremov) in the smart-ass chit-chat smong the explorers.

Return to syllabus for Russian and East European Science Fiction.