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%)
Viktor Pelevin, Omon Ra
Viktor Pelevin (or Victor, in his English translations) was born in 1962, so grew up during the period of Stagnation. He attended aviation college in Moscow but has been a full-time writer since 1991. He is the first post-modern writer on our syllabus, and you'll see difference, though Omon Ra presents its questions about reality in a pretty realistic style. In her article about Pelevin in Neil Cornwell, ed., Reference Guide to Russian Literature (1998), Sally Dalton-Brown notes that his work is "characterized by fragmentation, conscious artificiality (i.e. the construction of 'hyperrealities'), and game-playing." Interesting to note that one of his stories is entitled "The Ninth Dream of Vera Pavlovna" - referring back to Chernyshevsky. Omon Ra was written in 1992, making it one of his earlier works; before 1991 he was better known as a writer of short stories. He often chooses to write science fiction, and you'll see the references to earlier (Soviet) SF in this book; he also moves into adjacent genres (fantasy, etc). He has written 14 novels or novellas, plus lots of essays. One short novel has the title "Prince StatePlan" (Принц Госплан), so this is not the only place where a character is named for a piece of Soviet realia - a name that no one would ever give a child.
Stanisław Lem, The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age
Lem's Cyberiada (1967) was beautifully, amusingly, brilliantly translated by Michael Kandel (whose PhD in Slavics is put to the best possible use in his inventive and impressive work on Lem, and I hope he can wallow in the royalties - though I don't mean to dis the other translators), and it has been in print ever since it appeared in 1974. Note also the wonderful original illustrations by Daniel Mróz (some still labeled in Polish).
Zoran Živković, Time Gifts
Zoran Živković (born 1948) is one of the best-known SF authors in the West from former Yugoslavia, thanks largely to very good translations of his work into English. (Alica Copple-Tošić, who translated Time Gifts, is not just a native speaker of English with a good style, but a sensitive reader of the original. I have the book in Serbian - with some melting Dalí clocks on the cover! - so let me know if you have questions about the original of any passages.) Some of Ž's works refer to well-known figures from Western culture (such as a plot line about Sherlock Holmes in his The Fourth Circle). His other books are listed on the back of our edition, so check there first if you would like to know and read more. He has a career as a publisher as well. Note: the first syllable of his last name suggests the adjective živ ('live' or 'lively') or the noun život ('life').
Karel Čapek (1890-1938) - Information and questions for reading War with the Newts
An introduction by Ivan Klíma mentions Faust, I quote (p. xii): "A man who feels equal to the creator labors under the delusion that he can and should make the world confirm to his own idea."
Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading
Invitation to a Beheading (Приглашение на казнь) was drafted in 1934 and completed in 1935-6, after Nabokov had already written several novels in Russian. It is more political than his earlier work had been, and its speculative elements remained a departure for him. Scholars consider it a response at once to the Stalinization of the Soviet Union and the rise of the Nazis in Germany (you can imagine how Nabokov scorned them!). He was researching the life of our friend Nikolai Chernyshevsky for what became his finest novel in Russian, The Gift (Дар), and you should recognize traces of Vera Pavlovna's fourth dream in many of its angles.
Mikhail Bulgakov, "The Fatal Eggs"
Mikhail Afanas'evich Bulgakov (1891-1940) was born in Kiev. He trained and practiced as a doctor, but in 1920 he decided to quit and become a writer. He is best known for his plays ("Days of the Turbins," "Zoyka's Apartment," "The Crimson Island," "Molière," and others) and his novel The Master and Margarita (left not quite finished when he died), but he wrote some shorter fiction as well. "The Fatal Eggs," written in 1924, was published in the collection Diavoliada ('The Diaboliad') in Moscow in 1925 and fairly enthusiastically received. Bulgakov was skeptical of the Bolshevik revolution, and as a result he experienced all kinds of unpleasant censorship - indeed, by 1927 (a year before most of the action in "Fatal Eggs" takes place!) Bulgakov's prose was banned, and he never published any more prose in his lifetime. His success as a dramatic author lasted a bit longer, but Stalin did not let him emigrate when he asked to in 1930. Bulgakov's third wife preserved his archive after his death from nephrosclerosis, and when The Master and Margarita was finally published in the 1960s - in a censored edition! - it was a big surprise for readers everywhere.