Sunday, August 17, 2014
A group of Russian intellectuals find their researches are being interrupted. Some of the interruptions are bizarre, such as the sudden delivery of never-ordered booze, caviar, and cheese. Some of the interruptions are downright scary, such as the sudden apparent suicide of a colleague. Others are threatening, such as the interrogations of the devilishly red-headed investigator looking into the suicide, or a mystery telegram implying that a loved one is in trouble.
The intellectuals represent different disciplines: biology, astronomy, and literature to name a few. What they have in common is that a few of them live in the same big Soviet-era apartment complex. Back in my Binghamton days, my friend Boris and I lived in a big, run-down apartment complex that reminded Boris of his childhood in Leningrad. Happy memories. A sense of community. People dropping in on each other.
Most of the" action" in Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's novel Definitely Maybe is just like that: friends, and sometimes strangers (in both senses of the world), dropping in on each other, drinking, smoking, boozing, and theorizing. The conversation and banter is fun and funny. This novel is almost an SF comedy of manners.
This is a new translation of the novel by Antonina W. Bouis, with an afterword by Boris Strugatsky. It's part of the Neversink Library imprint from Melville House.
The friends propose different theories to explain the constant interruptions in their disparate lines of research: a human conspiracy (secret masters of sorts), aliens, and the Homeostatic Universe. The latter idea is that the universe itself abhors being known/knowable, and acts against those who probe its secrets. The novel concludes with most of the characters deciding that pursuing their research will be too destructive: it will harm the people they love the most.
One among their number is determined to forge ahead with his research. He decides to relocate to the distant Pamirs, far away from anyone who could be harmed as the Homeostatic Universe makes "adjustments" to slow down the researcher's progress.
The novel is significantly less gloomy than the Strugatskys' Roadside Picnic and Hard to be a God. (But it's still gloomy.) It has one connection to Roadside Picnic which is that one of the characters hypothesizes that an (alien) "supercivilization" is behind the interruptions of peoples' researches. The same term is used in Roadside Picnic to explain the appearance of the Pillman Radiant and the Zones.