Destination: Amaltheia and other artifacts of Soviet Science Fiction literature and art… October 20, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, The Left.
For a long time now I’ve thought of linking to science fictions stories on the web. Actually, some years back I linked to this by the fabulous James Tiptree Jr. (real name Alice Sheldon), a disturbing short story that while intrinsically SF in approach had some harsh thoughts about gender and violence. Anyhow, in the meantime I remembered an image I saw as a young child in school in the early 1970s. I think it was on stamps or cards that another kid in the class brought into school one day and it was a series of paintings of spacecraft. One in particular stood out and that was of a moon base or space colony. For years I looked for it online and off but couldn’t find it.
Anyhow, idly browsing a couple of weeks ago I found it. And here it is. A painting from the 1950s or early 1960s by Soviet space artist Andrey Sokolov.
At least I think it is. My memory was of a more detailed and elaborate structure, albeit similar in shape with a metal roof and beneath that a plastic hexagonal see through dome, and if I recall correctly it was painted from the perspective of a viewer outside the dome. But at forty odd years or so it’s hard to be entirely sure. So perhaps it is this one.
I guess it’s just possible that some other Eastern European or Soviet artists used the idea as a spring board to create other images. If so and if anyone has seen them I’d be very glad. What makes me a little dubious about that is that this image turned up on a Cuban stamp in the 1970s which would make sense in terms of my seeing it. And yet I seem to recall it was part of a series of cards in a little cardboard book.
Meanwhile, here’s another image from around the same period or a little earlier which brings me back to the story idea.
It was the cover of a collection of Soviet Science Fiction, illustrating the title story Destination: Amaltheia by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The Strugatsky’s later wrote a sequence of SF novels, three of which Beetle in the Anthill, Hard to Be A God and Prisoners of Power are amongst my favourite SF novels ever (or novels ever). They’re perhaps better known as the authors of the novel Roadside Picnic which was the basis for Tarkovsky’s unforgettable Stalker, most definitely my favourite film. Destination:Amaltheia was published in the late 1950s by the fairly wonderfully titled Foreign Languages Publishing House Moscow and for some reason found its way into the house I lived in as a kid. I remember loving the imagery, particularly the sparse space craft here.
And here, and what by the way are those things on top of the astronauts helmets?
It was quite good too as a collection – with a particularly good story, as I recall, about a scientist who reversed gravity globally. Now long lost – though that edition is not hard to find online.
And for those who are intrigued by a slice of Soviet SF from way back when here is Destination: Amaltheia itself. It’s a story very much of its time with an oddly lugubrious sense of humour and rather dry, but some insights nonetheless… and what to make of the shortages of foodstuffs?