Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Far Rainbow

Far Rainbow (Далекая Радуга) could also be translated as Distant Rainbow or Faraway Rainbow, and in my humble opinion the latter two sound a bit better. The short novel (повесть) was first published in 1963; our translation (by Antonina Bouis) dates from 1979.

Unlike Escape Attempt, this novel is explicitly linked with the Noon Universe through the character of Leonid Gorbovsky. The "Nooniverse" dates from the earliest joint work of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (or ABS, as fans often abbreviate their joint enterprise - distinguishing the authorial pair from ANS and BNS as individuals). The authors commented that they would like to live inthe Noon Universe, which is named for the collection of stories (or loose novel?) Noon. 22nd Century.

As you read, note how much more real this society is than Efremov's utopia - and yet how there are still utopian traits, though they are set off against human weaknesses. (Interesitng linguistic detail: did you know that the word "foible" comes from the French word that's now pronounced "faible"? Its opposite is "forte," pronounced like English "fort" rather than Italian (musical) "forte" even though most people will say "It's not my forté.") Part of the appeal of the Strugatskys is the way they introduce anxious notes into the relatively utopian setting of their universe that one might argue sprang from the optimism of the Thaw period. Far Rainbow very clearly raises the issue of how scientific and technical progress interact with human foibles (from petty theft of electric power to grandiose experimental hubris).

I picked this novel out of all the ones written by ABS because there were enough copies available used on Amazon - but it's also a fun read, plus there's the bonus Second Martian Invasion (translated very well by a different translator). The idea of packing together two short novels is one the Soviet publishers also often used.

Questions for reading:

  1. Note, as always, the mix of names and ask if you're curious about any whose ethnicity you don't immediately recognize. Note: There are Russians named Robert.
  2. How does the love story of Robert and Tanya function in the book?
  3. How do the shifts of narrative consciousness affect the reader?
  4. Lamandois refers to "twenty billion earthlings scattered across the universe." What else do we learn about the universe as it exists beyond Rainbow?
  5. What do the humorous bits in the book accomplish?
  6. How do you like the good wish "Calm plasma"? (Sounds like the "Easy steam" Russians wish each other on the way to the bathhouse, or "Good night.")
  7. Note the good deeds and bad deeds - how would you compare them to those in the other works we've read?
  8. Compare the Children's Colony to Bogdanov's on Mars in Red Star. Summer camp was a frequent experience for Soviet children - state subsidized, both as a way of socializing children as, um, socialists, and because in almost every family both parents worked, so someone had to take care of the kids when there was no school in the summer.
  9. The end of the novel really isn't a surprise by the time we get there. How does lacking the suspense of "What's going to happen?" impact your experience as you read? (Or would you disagree that there's no suspense?)
  10. Here's a planet (Rainbow) that was uninhabited when people discovered it. What do you notice about their terraforming?
  11. What is hte place of art and artists in the story?
  12. Note the figure of Camill: this is the book where we learn his secret (since the reader will go on to other works where he appears).
  13. How do you read Gorbovsky's "I'd sooner believe in a manwho can be resurrected than in a man who is capable of a criminal act" in light of his conversation with Camill on p. 130?
  14. How would you compare Gorbovsky to Anton and Vadim in EscapeAttempt?