Lame Fate/Ugly Swans by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Trade Paperback – Chicago Review Press – Aug 2020 – 377 pages
Today, Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are counted among the best science fiction writers of the twentieth century, but their relationship with the late-Soviet literary establishment was often fraught. By the late 1960s, publishers had become increasingly reluctant to release their works, but their novels and short stories, retyped by hand, circulated widely through unofficial channels within the Soviet Union and occasionally turned up abroad in unauthorized translation.
The nested novels Ugly Swans and Lame Fate offer insight into this period of enforced silence. Never before translated into English, Lame Fate tells the story of middle-aged author Felix Sorokin, who is asked by the Soviet Writers’ Union to submit a writing sample to a new computer program that will scientifically evaluate its “objective value” as a literary work. Sorokin must choose whether to present something establishment-approved or risk sharing his unpublished masterpiece.
Sorokin’s masterwork is Ugly Swans, previously published in English as a standalone work but presented here in an authoritative new translation. Its hero, disgraced literary celebrity Victor Banev, returns to his hometown to find it haunted by the mysterious “clammies” – black-masked outcasts with supernatural talents who terrify the town’s adult population but enthrall its teenagers, including Banev’s own daughter.
Together, Lame Fate and Ugly Swans illuminate some of the Strugatskys’ favorite themes – the (im)possibility of political progress, the role of the individual in society, the nature of honor and courage, and the enduring value of art – in consummately entertaining fashion. By turns chilling, uproarious, and moving, these intertwining stories are sure to delight readers from all walks of life.