Ivan Efremov, excerpts from Andromeda Nebula

small photograph of Efremov

Ivan Antonovich Efremov (1907-1972) was a paleontologist by profession who published a few long stories in the 1940s ("Звездные корабли" 'Star Ships,' 1947; "На краю Ойкумены" 'On the Edge of Oicumena,' 1949), but did his best-known fictional work his after Stalin's death in 1953. His books include Туманность Андромеды (The Andromeda Nebula, 1956-7), Лезвие бритвы (The Razor's Blade, 1963), and the historical novel Таис Африканская (Thaïs of Africa, 1973). He won a state prize in the USSR in 1952, and his collected works in three volumes came out in Moscow in 1975-6.

Efremov's novel The Andromeda Nebula, of which we only have excerpts, unfortunately, was considered a watershed in Soviet science fiction (НФ, научная фантастика) both because it belongs to the literature of "The Thaw," that period in the late 1950s and early 1960s when some authors moved away from the obligatory clichés of Socialist Realism, and because it nonetheless fits into a socialist ideology with its presentation of a marvelous world of victorious communism.

Questions for reading

  1. How do you like the characters' names? (Espcially the suggestive "Erg"!) None of the names are particularly Russian, and you'll no doubt notice that they lack those patronymics - just first and last names (versus just first names for the Martians in Red Star).
  2. Re Darr Vetter: I have to wonder, did George Lucas read Andromeda Nebula at a formative age?
  3. What are the associations of the spaceship's name, Tantra?
  4. Re the science and technology: here and elsewhere, powerful computers ("brains") are imagined as being huge, heavy, and fragile: would this have made the story more plausible for readers in the late 1950s?
  5. What is the role of romance in the story? - Both in the sense of high pathos in descriptions (the commander's hands move over the instruments like a pianist's) and in the important role of love interests?
  6. How does the egalitarian depiction of gender roles mesh with the ever-presence of love and attraction in these sections of the novel? (Example: on p. 626, Erg Noor starts explaining things to Nisa Creet that she must already know if she landed this job of interstellar navigator! What is her function here?)
  7. With race, as well: how does Efremov present his talented African, Mven Mass?
  8. Note that the inhabitants of Zirda are "unlike Terrestrial humans but unmistakably people" - Marxist laws of development. How do you react to the assumption that people everywhere in space are still people?
  9. Minor note: on p. 627, the name of the ship "Parus," which never returned, means "Sail" - and it's also the title of a famous poem by Russian Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov: "A solitary sail shows white/ In the haze of a blue sea./ What is it seeking in a distant country?/ What has it left behind in the homeland?// The waves play - the whind whistles,/ And the mast bends and creaks.../ Alas, it isn't seeking happiness/ And isn't running from happiness!// Under it the stream of bright blue is lighter,/ Above it the sun's ray is gold.../ But it, rebellious, begs for a storm,/ As though there were peace in storms!" Russians all memorized this verse in elementary school, so no reader would be able to help the unconscious association. Does the poem seem to illuminate anything in the story?
  10. The interest of the cosmonauts here in finding out what happened, and ideally finding, earlier space exploration voyages is very like that in polar expeditions. (I was just reading about a new mission to find the remains of Roald Amundsen, first man to reach the South Pole, who vanished eighty years ago or so while trying to rescue another explorer from the Arctic.) Have any of you read any of the polar exploration narratives, perhaps the closest thing "earthly" literature can offer to compare to the trials of travel in space?
  11. How about the characters using nerve stimulants, artificial sleep, etc.?
  12. How do the details of this universe come together for you? - the technology, the concerns in space flight, the way time and distance are measured?
  13. I'm sure you already noticed "the mighty tree of communist society now flourishing over the entire planet"...
  14. How does Veda Kong present human history? (Does page 641 remind you of Vera Pavlova's Dream in Chernyshevsky?)
  15. As always, how are the scientists presented, and what is their relationship to the cosmonauts?

the Andromeda Galaxy

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