THE ULTIMATE THRESHOLD:
                A COLLECTION OF THE FINEST IN SOVIET SCIENCE FICTION, edited and translated by Mirra Ginsburg
(Penguin, 75p)
                a review by Barrington J. Bayley

 

    Science fiction practically disappeared in the USSR during the Stalin period and is now much in demand. The lack of practise shows in these tales from the 1960s, which though amateurishly written try hard and are interesting if only because of where they come from.
    The legend of Icarus and Daedalus is retold as two spaceships armoured with superdense matter try to penetrate to the heart of the sun. A sentient industrial robot is ordered to sacrifice himself to prevent the spillage of a million tons of molten silicon. A master mechanic builds a public death machine for those who wish to commit suicide during an economic crisis but fear to burden their relatives with funeral expenses. In each of thirteen tales there is a good idea and a good story, though too often struggling to express itself through a sketchy or inept narrative. Most balanced and readable are two stories by Anatole Dneprov, one of which, 'Formula of Immortality', is a sombre tale about the creation of synthetic human beings.
   Seven of the twelve authors are described as 'engineers'; one is a mathematical physicist, and one edits a science journal. Half are or have been engaged in research. Not surprisingly, the laboratory is the preferred locale; hard data and wordy discussions on the methodology of science are the order of the day. One is reminded of George O. Smith's 'Venus Equilateral' stories and other 'pure engineering' sf of the 1930s and 40s with the difference that here the fun is spoiled by an emotional human factor that lurks awkwardly among the engineer-scientists' glittering new toys, muttering dire protests alongside the 'official' declamations concerning the advance of scientific man. All in all, I'd say anyone who managed to plug the Stalinist gap by publishing Russian-language back-runs of Astounding and Thrilling Wonder might make himself a lot of roubles.

 

copyright 2000, Barrington J. Bayley
previously published in Time Out

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