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Olga Larionova and Valentina Zhuravleva

Information and Questions for Reading

Olga Nikolaevna Larionova (born in Leningrad in 1935) graduated from the Physics department of Leningrad University and worked for a while as an engineer, but published her first story ("Киска" or "Kitty") in 1964 and a successful first novel, Леопард с вершины Килиманджаро (The Leopard from the Top of Kilimanjaro), in 1965. By 1967 she had become a professional writer. She published her first collection of stories in 1971 (The Island of Courage), but in the less favorable climate of the Stagnation period was not able to publish another collection until 1981 (A Tale of Kings) and 1983 (Signs of the Zodiac). In 1987 she won the Aèlita Prize for the best book of the year for her novella Sonata of the Sea (1985). It was part of the eventual trilogy A Labyrinth for Troglodytes 1991). She continued to write and publish through the 1990s, though I have not found any citations for work published after 2005. (But will make it a project to look for more in the future!)

The translator of the two collections from which the Larionova stories are drawn, Mirra Ginsburg, also translated lots of works by Bulgakov, and a version of Zamyatin's We, and she also translated from Yiddish; I think it's telling that most of the stories by women I've been able to find in translation were done by a woman translator.

Valentina Zhuravleva (Zhu-raff-LYO-vuh, 1933-2004) was born in Baku, where she received a degree in pharmavology, and spent most of her later life in Petrozavodsk. Much of her writing was stimulated by collaboration with her husband, Genrikh Al'tov (pen name of G. S. Altshuller). She published her first story in 1958 and eventually published four books, Through Time (1960), The Man Who Created Atlantis (1963), Snow Bridge over the Abyss (1971), and Flying in the Universe (2002). Four of her stories and one story that she co-wrote with Al'tov are available in translation in Alltov and Zhuravlyova, Ballad of the Stars (1982), translated by Roger DeGaris; I have a copy, if you would like to check out more of her work.

Gennadii Gor (1907-1981) was born in Ulan-Ude (then part of the Russian Empire) in a Jewish family that had been exiled to Siberia. He moved to Petrograd (later Leningrad) in 1923 and entered Petrograd (soon to be Leningrad) State University. He was expelled for writing the novel The Cow (Корова, not published in Russia until 2000), and from then on devoted himself entirely to literature. His poetry from the period of the Siege of Leningrad was unknown for a long time but now is the object of enthusiastic reading and scholarly study; he spent one year in besieged Leningrad and then was evacuated as an important cultural figure. He began writing science fiction in the 1960s and was quite successful in that genre too. (His granddaughter now teaches Russian in the US.)

Questions for Reading:

  1. When did you catch the Pygmalion reference in "Useless Planet?" How does it impact your reading of the story?
  2. How do the names of the civilizations involved (Gea, and Logitania) shape the reader's attitude towards them? Does this story offer a new take on the relationship of logic (a particular kind of perfectible human trait) to other human traits?
  3. How does the ending of "Useless Planet" change (if it does) your understanding of the earlier sections of the story, and does it raise any interesting general questions?
  4. What do you make of a woman SF author endowing the only female character in the story with greater emotional sensitivity, and greater emotional needs, than the male Logitanians we meet?
  5. In "Temira," what elements remind you of "Useless Planet"?
  6. Here the emotional riches lie mostly with the Temirans, and the humans are all male. How does the gender balance impact the message of the story?
  7. There is actually one female earthling character mentioned by our narrator: Abakumova, on p. 27. What does this passing mention tell the reader about the status of women in the space fleet in which our characters are employed?
  8. What else can we tell about this universe, its laws and customs?
  9. I gave you Zhuravleva's "Brat" (or "Hussy," if you take the time to read the other translation) in part because it's looking at SF from the point of view of its earthly readers and fan community. At what point does it move from depicting the SF reader community to being something else?
  10. Gor's story "The Garden" was also translated by Mirra Ginsburg, and her role in bringing Soviet-era SF into English makes one ponder the importance of translators in literary transmission. Do you notice anything particular about the translations made by her, or the selection of stories she made?
  11. What is the cultural resonance of a title like "The Garden"? In what ways does the story fulfill the expectations the title sets up, or violate them?
  12. Since you know Gor was a poet, what do you make of the place of poetry in the story?
  13. What is the role of art in the story? How would you compare it to Gansovsky's "Vincent van Gogh"?


Sibelan Forrester

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