Unsolicited Book Review -- Strugatsky Brothers


Unsolicited Book Review -- Strugatsky Brothers

a modern, forward moving society can't function while plagued by archaic beliefs

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Strugatsky brothers' Ugly Swans is about xenophobia. Writing in the sci-fi/fantasy genre allowed the brothers to speak freely about their issues with society without fear of persecution in 1960s communist Russia.

My book, which I read in Russian, consists of two separate but intertwined short stories. Ugly Swans is popular stateside, perhaps for the story's disdain, and eventual collapse of the "old" world, as represented by the older, rigid, stricter parents.

The children are influenced by 'slimies' or lepers; people with weird physical deformities, who are nonetheless brilliant and worldly. Young people take to them and developed a level of maturity and intelligence unmatchable by their parents and teachers. What this leads to is fear and eventual segregation of the 'slimies' into a closed off leper colony.

As with most hatred and xenophobia, fear is the driving force. Fear is a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't give us an honest interpretation of what is happening around us. The story represents the kind of fear people experience when faced with something new. All drastic changes carry with them a sort of threat to the current life we have. Banev, the parent of one of the children in the book feels the same. But before he has a chance to take action, he understands. That our knee-jerk reactions are not always accurate, and that an ending to an 'old world' can bring forth a change beneficial to us all.

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Limping Fate

The second story is called Limping Fate, I highly recommend it if you can find it in English. One of the first lines in the book reads, "Lately, I get the feeling that whoever is in charge of my destiny is downright messing with me." (My translation skills leave something to be desired, but that is the gist).

Unlike Ugly Swans, this story is about an author, who is forced to have his works evaluated by a machine which determines if something is literature or trash. The real theme according to some, is whether anyone can really be the judge of artistic talent. However, since the stories were lumped together into one book (samizdat - at that), I thought it better to interpret them as compliments of each other.

The world depicted in Limping Fate is wildly different from the brave, forward-moving society of Ugly Swans. Here, the populace cannot adapt or keep up. They maintain their archaic ideas of what is talent, artistry, and competition. Eventually, these old concepts and ideas fall away.

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Our world today is very much like the future Strugatsky brothers had in mind when they wrote. Ugly Swans is imperative to our current lives. We are plagued by xenophobia -- racism, sexism, Islamophobia, ageism -- all of these have their roots in fear.

A society that is as technologically and scientifically advanced as ours is moving forward at a fast pace. As we move forward, archaic concepts such as the ones mentioned above, will become nonsensical. If people choose to hold on to some of these notions, they will eventually be pushed out of society. We can't maintain moving forward as long as these ancient, and quite frankly, absurd, ideas remain rampant.

Racism is one such mind-boggling concept that seems to me centuries too old for current American society. It doesn't make sense to hold an iPhone in one hand, drive an electric hybrid car, yet have the person next to you hate or fear another race.

These two stories made me wonder about what will happen next. The two stories were printed together for reason. It was a harbinger of sorts. I believe if people maintain their archaic beliefs, it will create a chasm between the open-minded welcome members of society and those who refuse to move forward. This chasm can have catastrophic repercussions on our lives. I hope people understand this and adjust their ideologies.