Russian and East European Science Fiction
RUSS 026/LITR 026R
Spring 2011
Tuesday, Thursday 1:15-2:30
Martin 213

Sibelan Forrester
Kohlberg 340

Office Hours:

Readings | Acknowledgments | Assignments | Outside Readings | Other Swarthmore Professors Interested in ... | Syllabus
| Course Blog

In this course we will read a selection of the best science fiction from Russia and East Europe with attention to its cultural, historical, and literary context and its literary and philosophical quality. Course assignments will combine written papers (or equivalent web development), projects driven by students' interests, and written examinations. Students will have opportunities for individual or group work. Anyone who knows Czech, Polish, Russian or Serbian is welcome to read (at least some works) in the original. The goals of the course are to explore the nature of science fiction, to learn about the particular nature of Russian and East European science fiction (and become more informed about its historical and cultural context), and to read a lot of excellent, thought-provoking literature.

This online syllabus will be updated regularly during the semester. Please refer to it regularly for changes, additional readings, information on writers, questions for reading, et cetera.

Concurrent with this course, there will be a film series focusing on Russian and East European science fiction, and you're welcome both to attend those screenings and to refer to the films in your work for this course. Keep an eye out for posters.

Last updated: Wednesday, April 1

Readings (some to be purchased in the Bookstore):

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Lenka Pánková for suggesting War with the Newts, and to Kevin Reese for an interesting and informative conversation on Soviet SF at AATSEEL in San Francisco.


  1. A weekly contribution to the course blog, equivalent to about 1 or 1 1/2 pages in a word processor. If you feel shy about sharing, give me a page or two of written or typed notes, due each Thursday at the beginning of class.
  2. Short paper (5-7 pp.) or equivalent web presentation, due February 22. See TOPICS here.
  3. Short answer exam, self-scheduled, due March 22.
  4. One longer paper (10-12 pp.) or equivalent web presentation, due April 12. Topic: compare/contrast one work we’re reading to one we aren’t; OR to a similar work from the Western tradition; OR to a TV or film adaptation.
  5. One additional project, chosen from the following possibilities, due on April 28:
    * Imaginary translation: make up a science fiction writer and cwrite a 5-6 page story by him or her, accompanied by a brief (and not implausible!) biography;
    * If you know one of the relevant languages well enough, a genuine translation (5-6 pages plus a brief biographical/critical introduction of the author;
    * A 5-6 page definition of SF, citing examples of the traits you identify as necessary and sufficient from the works we read. amd reacting to definitions you have found (Suvin, others). (Include a bibliography.)
    * A 5-6 page review of a work we read, or a film from the series (or of some other work - consult first with the instructor).
  6. Final examination (short answer and essay): a 3-hour self-scheduled exam, due to me by May 16 (OR by the end of Bi-Co finals).
  7. Extra credit: collect and prepare info on a writer of SF from Russia, East Europe or Central Asia (who’s available in English translation) for use in future editions of this course. To be arranged after talking with the instructor.


Blog contributions (or reading notes): 10%
Short paper: 10%
Midterm exam: 10%
Longer paper: 20%
Special project: 10%
Final examination: 20%
Attendance and participation: 20%
(Extra credit: +5%)

Outside Reading:

Some criticism and pre-texts will be on Blackboard. Not all of these additional sources are in Tripod, but they could all be helpful for this course. Check the Reference section (under PG especially) for info on authors you don't know well.

Let me know if you find sources I should add!

Collections of Russian and/or East European Science Fiction in Tripod:

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of information on EE and Russian science fiction online – if you start research on the web no one will make scornful noises. On the other hand, don’t ignore the books.

Movies to consider as you consider your papers and presentations:

Some of our authors have inspired multiple TV and film treatments:

For background on Russian and EE Literature:

I’ve included the call numbers in part because there are other useful reference sources beside these on the shelves; PG is the Library of Congress code for Slavic literatures.

Other Swat professors interested in SF:

Other Swat professors who teach about Russia and East Europe:



January 18: Background, reading list, syllabus; final reading

January 20: Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, "On the Moon: A Fantastic Tale," plus Nikolai Fyodorov, "The Question of Brotherhood..." - both on Blackboard.

Information on Tsiolkovsky and questions for reading


January 25: Aleksandr Bogdanov, Red Star introduction, pp. 1-16, and 17-140

Information and Questions on Bogdanov and Fyodorov

January 27: Valery Briusov, "The Republic of the Southern Cross," WA, 303-17; Alexander Kuprin, "The Toast" and "Liquid Sunshine," WA, 348-92. (For backgropund, if you wish, read Alexander Levitsky, "Modern Russian Fantasy, Utopia, and Science Fiction" and "Russia's Silver Age and the Fantastic of the 20s and 30s" in Worlds Apart, pp. 291-297; "Russia’s Modernist and Post-Symbolist Prose," WA, 345-47.)

Information and Questions on Briusov and Kuprin


February 1: Karel Čapek, R.U.R.

Information and Questions on Čapek and R.U.R.

February 3: Fyodor Dostoevsky, "The Grand Inquisitor" (Bookstore) and "Dream of a Ridiculous Man," Worlds Apart, pp. 276-90.


February 8: Nikolai Chernyshevsky, "Vera Pavlovna’s Dream," Worlds Apart, pp. 248-58; Evgenii Zamiatin, We

Information and Questions on We

February 10: Alexei N. Tolstoy, from "Aèlita, Queen of Mars," Worlds Apart, pp. 555-83; clip from Yakov Protazanov’s Aèlita

Information and Questions on Aèlita

Possible topics for the first paper, due February 22


February 15: Mikhail Bulgakov, "The Fatal Eggs," Worlds Apart, pp. 471-529

Information and Questions on Bulgakov's "Fatal Eggs"

February 17: Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading, Foreword and Chapters 1-9

Information and Questions on Nabokov and Invitation to a Beheading


February 22: Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading, Chapters 10-20

More Questions for Reading.


February 24: Karel Čapek, War with the Newts, Book One, pp. 9-114

Information and Questions on Čapek's War with the Newts

Big Issues in the course to date


March 1: Karel Čapek, War with the Newts, Books Two and Three, pp. 117-241

March 3: Josef Nesvadba, "Expedition in the Opposite Direction," pp. 50-84, and "Inventor of His Own Undoing," pp. 142-164 (on Blackboard)

Information and Questions on Nesvadba



March 15: Andrei Platonov, from "The Sun, the Moon, and the Ether Channel," in Worlds Apart, pp. 584-615; Ivan Efremov, from The Andromeda Nebula, in Worlds Apart, pp. 616-46; Sofya Khagi, "On Contemporary Russian Fantasy and Science Fiction," WA, pp. 647-50 and also scanned for your convenience on Blackboard.

Information and Questions on Platonov and The Sun, the Moon, and the Ether Channel

Information and Questions on Efremov

March 17: Kirill Bulychëv, "I Was the First to Find You," pp. 50-63, "May I Please Speak to Nina?" pp. 78-90, "Snowmaiden," pp. 103-13, "The Empty House," pp. 156-68 (on Blackboard)

Information and Questions on Bulychëv


March 22: Stanisław Lem, Solaris

Information and Questions on Lem and Solaris

Big Issues in Solaris

March 24: Several Soviet SF stories: Vladlen Bakhnov, "The Fifth on the Left," pp. 142-55; Sever Gansovsky, "Vincent Van Gogh," pp. 52-118; Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, "Old-Timer," pp. 41-47; Ilya Varshavsky, "No Alarming Symptoms," pp. 1-14 (on Blackboard)

Information and Questions on these writers and stories


March 29: Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky, Escape Attempt pp. 3-100 (on Blackboard)

Information and questions about the Strugatskys and Escape Attempt

March 31: Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky, Far Rainbow

Information and questions about Far Rainbow


April 5: Stanisław Lem, The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age

Information and questions about Cyberiad

April 7: Russian and EE Science Fiction Theory and Criticism (on Blackboard)


April 12: Lem, Futurological Congress, pp. 1-149

Information and questions on Lem's Futurological Congress

April 14: Viktor Pelevin, Omon Ra

Information about Pelevin and questions on Omon Ra


April 19: Zoran Živković, Time Gifts

Information and questions on Živković and Time Gifts

April 21: Vladimir Sorokin, Ice, pp.

Information and questions on Sorokin and Ice


April 26: Sorokin, Ice, pp.

April 28: Final discussion.

Final Examination will be a three-hour self-scheduled written exam, due to me no later than May 14 (or the end of BiCo finals, if you are a senior at Bryn Mawr or Haverford).