Early Russian SF

The origins of science fiction are a matter of much debate. Frankenstein (1818) is often cited as the first SF novel, while Jules Verne is lauded as the “father of science fiction”. Shelley, Verne and Wells all pre-date the launch of Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories. But the more we find out about other cultures, the more complex the story gets. Earlier this year I blogged about Enrique Gaspar’s The Time Ship, which pre-dates Wells’ The Time Machine. Now Wesleyan University Press has surprised me again with We Modern People, a history of early Russian science fiction.

Anindita Barerjee’s book traces the history of Russian SF in the decades from the 1890s through to 1920s, a tumultuous period in Russian history, and one driven by a desire amongst many Russians to modernize their country. Banerjee argues that science fiction was key this movement.

If you haven’t heard of anyone else from this period, you should know about Yevegeny Zamyatin, whose 1921 novel, We, was a major inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984. There were, however, many others. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky began publishing SF in the 1890s and was also a pioneer of rocket science. Oh, that that much quoted comment of William Gibson’s about the future being unevenly distributed: Trotsky once said something very similar.

The book looks to be a fascinating read, both because of what it can tell us about the history of SF, and what it says about how SF influences actual technological development. Many thanks to Wesleyan for sending it to me. I suspect that Jon Turney will be wanting to get a look at it.

2 thoughts on “Early Russian SF

  1. ahhh…great!
    I was amazed ro find out these early influences. Some see Mihail Štšerbatov’s (1733–1790) novel Putešestvie v zemlju Ofirskuju (A trip to Ofir) as an early political utopia.

  2. Nice. Earlier this year I ran into a short collection in my local library containing “The Year 4338” by Vladimir Odoevsky, which is a Russian SF story first published in 1835. For some reason it got translated into Dutch. It was an interesting read, clearly a child of its time.

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