Andrei Platonovich Platonov (original last name was Klimentov - note that "Platon" is the Russian forom of the name Plato, and by the 19th century it was marked as most often a peasant's name) was born in the provincial Russian city of Voronezh in a working class family. He started working on the railroad at 15 (more or less as WWI was starting), then served in the Red Army during the Civil War, graduated from a polytechnical institute in 1924 and worked in his home province as an electrical engineer. He started publishing in a variety of genres in 1918, and his first book, Electrification, appeared in 1921. Electrification was a big deal at that point (Lenin pushed it hugely; the little naked bulbs dangling from wires on the deilings of peasant huts were called "Ilyich's little lamps" and made a big impression on peopel who until then had burned wooden splinters for light at night.)
Platonov wrote a science fiction trilogy in the 1920s, Descendants of the Sun (Потомки солнца, 1922), The Lunar Bomb (That's bomb in the sense of "round thing" - Лунная бомба, 1926), and Etereal Trail (Эфирный тракт, 1922-8), and our excerpts are taken from these. With some pauses, he continued to write and also to rise through the Soviet trade union hierarchy. By the mid 1920s, his stories were appearing in the most prestigious Soviet literary journals. Some of his writing shows the influence of our old friend Nikolai Fyodorov, though less here his impulse to colonize the stars and more his philosophy of human commonality. By 1927 Platonov was able to bag the electrical engineering and devote himself full-time to writing, and he moved to Moscow - the New York City of the Soviet writing scene.
Elena Dryzhakova-Al'tshuller describes a special Platonov type character: "the 'secret' dreamer, a man 'unburdened' by education or culture (which is 'condensed intellect' in Platonoc's interpretation), yet 'animated' (одухотворен, one of Platonov's favorite words) by the idea of a common weal." Thus, again, the influence of Fyodorov (who had died when Platonov was 3 or 4 years old). "...[H]e dreams of fully renouncing his individuality and merging with the universal life of nature and of history. The result is an almost masochistic drive not to spare oneself, to perish for the sake of the common cause. Such feelings make the 'secret man' unintelligible and alien to those around him; hence came his spiritual anxiety, loneliness, and feeling of doom."
Eventually, Platonov began to express doubts in his writing about the true brightness of the Soviet future, and then of course he couldn't publish what he wrote. A lot of his best stuff was composed in the 1930s "for the desk drawer," though he was able to publish some stories on more ordinary, personal topics. (Note for film buffs: the marvelous 1937 story "The Potudan River" was the basis of Aleksandr Sokurov's even more wonderful first movie - his "diploma project" - "The Lonely Voice of Man" (Одинокий голос человека) in the 1980s.) Platonov worked as a war correspondent in 1942-5, no doubt enjoying the wartime relaxation of censorship, but was censored and attacked in 1946, his name removed from histories of Soviet literature. He got work in a children's publishing house, rewriting folktales.
The last part of Platonov's story is just as upsetting: he contracted tuberculosis from his son, who got it while in a Stalinist labor camp and died in his parents' care. He died in 1951, two years before Stalin (who had never liked his writing), and left behind a huge archive of letters and manuscripts that were eventually gradually published, though some appeared only in tamizdat until the late 1980s.
Questions for reading these excerpts from the 1920s:
Return to the syllabus for Russian and East European Science Fiction.