Posts Tagged ‘Nikita Khruschev’

Mars as Communist Utopia in Pre-Revolutionary Russian SF

June 7, 2018

I thought this might interest all the SF fans out there. One of the books I’ve started reading is Lost Mars: The Golden Age of the Red Planet, edited by Mark Ashley (London: The British Library 2018). It’s a collection of SF stories written about the Red Planet from the 19th century to just before the Mariner and then Viking probes in the ’60s and ’70s showed that rather than being a living planet with canals, vegetation and civilised beings, it was a dead world more like the Moon. It’s a companion volume to another book of early SF stories from about the same period, Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures, also edited by Mike Ashley. The Martian book contains stories by H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury – from The Martian Chronicles, natch – Marion Zimmer Bradley, E.C. Tubb, Walter M. Miller, and the great novelist of dystopias and bug-eyed psychopaths, J.G. Ballard. It also contains pieces by now all but forgotten Victorian and early Twentieth writers of Scientific Romances, W.S. Lach-Szyrma, George C. Wallis, P. Schuyler Miller and Stanley G. Weinbaum.

Both books are also interesting, not just for the short stories collected in them, but also for Ashley’s introduction, where he traces the literary history of stories about these worlds. In the case of the Moon, this goes all the way back to the Roman satirist, Lucian of Samosata, and his Vera Historia. This is a fantasy about a group of Roman sailors, whose ship is flung into space by a massive waterspout, to find themselves captured by a squadron of Vulturemen soldiers from the Moon, who are planning an invasion of the Sun.

The history of literary speculation about Mars and Martian civilisation, is no less interesting, but somewhat shorter. It really only begins in the late 19th century, when telescopes had been developed capable of showing some details of the Martian surface, and in particular the canali, which the Italian astronomer Schiaparelli believed he had seen. The Italian word can mean ‘channels’ as well as ‘canal’, and Schiaparelli himself did not describe them as artificial. Nevertheless, other astronomers, like Percival Lowell of Flagstaff, Arizona, believed they were. Other astronomers were far more sceptical, but this set off the wave of novels and short stories set on an inhabited Mars, like Edgar Rice Burrough’s famous John Carter stories. I remember the Marvel adaptation of some these, or at least using the same character, which appeared as backing stories in Star Wars comic way back in the 1970s.

It’s also interesting, and to contemporary readers somewhat strange, that before H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, the vast majority of these stories about Mars assumed that the Martians would not only be far more scientifically and technologically advanced, but they would also be more socially and spiritually as well. Just like the Aetherius Society, a UFO new religious movement founded by George King in the 1950s, claims that Jesus was really as Venusian, and now lives on that world along with Aetherius, the being from whom they believe they receive telepathic messages, so there were a couple of short stories in which Christ was a Martian. These were Charles Cole’s Visitors From Mars, of 1901, and Wallace Dowding’s The Man From Mars of 1910.

Other utopias set on the Red Planet were more secular. In Unveiling a Parallel, by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, of 1893, the Martians are handsome and intelligent, and their women totally liberated. Another feminist utopia was also depicted by the Australian writer Mary Moore-Bentley in her A Woman of Mars of 1901.

And in Russia, the writer Alexander Bogdanov made Mars a Communist utopia. Ashley writes

While the planetary romance theme was developing there were other explorations of Martian culture. The Red Planet became an obvious setting for a communist state in Krasnaia Zvesda (‘Red Star’, 1908) and its sequel Inzhener Menni (‘Engineer Menni’, 1912) by Alexander Bogdanov. Although reasonably well known in Russia, especially at the time of the revolution in 1917, and notoriously because of its reference to free love on Mars, it was not translated into English until 1984. Kim Stanley Robinson claimed it served as an influence for his own novel, Red Mars (1992), the first of his trilogy about terraforming the planet. Although the emphasis in Bodganov’s stories is on the benefits of socialism, he took trouble to make the science as realistic as possible. The egg-shaped rocket to Mars is powered by atomic energy. His Mars is Schiaparellian, with canals that have forests planted along their full length, explaining why they are visible from Earth. He also went to great lengths to explain how the topography of Mars, and the fact that it was twice as old as Earth, allowed social evolution to develop gradually and more effectively, with planet-wide communication and thus a single language. (Pp. 11-12).

So five years before the Revolution, Mars really was the ‘Red Planet’ in Russian literature. I’m not surprised it wasn’t translated into English until the 1980s. British publishers and censors probably disliked it as a piece of Communist propaganda, quite apart from Anglophone western Puritanism and the whole issue of free love. No naughtiness allowed on the side of the Iron Curtain, not even when it’s set on Mars. Russian cinema also produced one of the first SF films, also set on Mars. This was Aelita (1922), in which Russian cosmonauts travel to the Red Planet to start a revolution, though at the end it’s revealed that it’s all been a dream.

Meanwhile, Mars as a planet of mystery continues in the French SF series, Missions, shown at 10.00 Thursdays on BBC 4. This has French spationauts and their American rivals landing on the Red Planet, only to find a mysterious altar constructed from lost Atlantean materials described by the Romans, and Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut, who has been turned into something more than human with three strands of DNA. In reality, Komarov died when the parachutes on his spacecraft failed to open when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Tragically, Komarov knew it was a deathtrap, but went anyway because Khrushchev wanted another Russian space achievement to show up the Americans, and Komarov did not want his friend, and first man in space, Yuri Gagarin to go. It’s a tragic, shameful waste of human life on what was a purely political stunt, and Komarov is, because of his desire to save his friend, one of the great heroes of the space age.

But Missions shows not only how much people really want us to travel to Mars – to explore and colonise – it also shows how the Red Planet still remains the source of wonder and speculation about alien civilisations, civilisations that may not be hostile monsters intent on invading the Earth ‘for no very good reason’, as Douglas Adams described the motives of those aliens, who wanted to take over the universie in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. One of the French spationauts, Jeanne, has dreamed of going to Mars since being shown it through a telescope by her father when she was a little girl. Electromagnetic scans of the area, when developed, give a picture of her face, and ‘Komarov’ tells her he has been waiting millions of years for her, and she is the true link between Mars and Earth.

Yes, it’s weird. But different. And it shows that Mars is continuing to inspire other forms of SF, where the Martians aren’t invaders – or at least, not so far-but benevolent guides waiting for us to come to them and make the next leap in our development. Just like Bogdanov in 1912 imagined that they would be ahead of us, and so have created a true Communist utopia.

Advertisements

May, Smith, Trident and the Continuing Relevance of 80s Pop

July 23, 2016

In the debate over Trident the other day, both Theresa May and Owen Smith showed their utter willingness to incinerate hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in a nuclear war. Michelle, one of the great commenters on this blog, was particularly chilled by their readiness to do so without any apparent qualms or pangs of conscience. She wrote

It would seem there’s something dangerous in the water at Westminster! I couldn’t sleep after seeing the clip when May said “yes” without hesitation to the question of whether she would be willing to kill 100,000’s of INNOCENT men women and children! If anyone hasn’t seen this: https://youtu.be/zK4Z5ZF3jsshttps://youtu.be/zK4Z5ZF3jss

Then there is Owen willing to do so even if the count is in the millions and with a small smile on his face: https://youtu.be/o86kjk15j4E?t=22shttps://youtu.be/o86kjk15j4E?t=22s

It would seem the cackle of madness is drumming out most rational thought in the power house.

Absolutely. After he and Kennedy nearly destroyed the world in the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev was very serious about the threat posed by nuclear Armageddon. On his goodwill visit to the West afterwards, someone made a joke about it. They were told by Khrushchev that the destruction of humanity was ‘no laughing matter’. The Soviet president also didn’t get on with Chairman Mao. Some of this was due to differences over geopolitical strategies, and attitudes to Communist doctrine. But Khrushchev was also appalled by Mao’s attitude to the nuclear stand-off. Mao really couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had pulled back, and felt that he should have nuked America when he had the chance. It’s an attitude to the extermination of the human race, or at least a sizable part of it, which shows what a genocidal maniac Mao was.

May’s and Smith’s comments are particularly frightening in the present climate, when prominent NATO generals are claiming that by May next year, Putin will have invaded Latvia and the Atlantic Alliance and Russia will be at war. I can remember the threat of nuclear incineration in the New Cold War of the early ’80s. That was terrifying, but it also called forth some of the greatest and most beautiful pop songs of that period, as our musicians added their voices to the call for peace and sanity.

One of them was Sting, and his piece ‘Russians’. Based on a piece by the great Russian composer Prokofiev, it has the lines ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’ and is a condemnation of the militaristic posturing by both America and the Soviet Union, and an eloquent plea for peace. The Soviet Union has passed, but unfortunately the song and its message still remain very relevant. I found this piece on YouTube of the great man singing it on Russian TV. The fact that the Fall of Communism has led to a thaw between the West and the former Soviet bloc is, to my mind, one of the greatest and most optimistic events of the post-War era. The fact that British bands were able to travel to Russia and perform, beginning with groups like the Clash and UB40, shows that military confrontation, sabre-rattling and posturing is far from the only foreign policy option. East and West can and do still meet in peace and friendship. Let’s hope our leaders don’t waste this situation, and annihilate humanity for the sake of military status. Here’s the video.

Should Cameron Get their Order of Stalin?

February 3, 2014

Stalin medal

Russian Medal celebrating Stalin’s 130th anniversary

If I was an Englishman, I would be a Conservative!

– Soviet premier Nikita Khruschev, angry at being given a rough reception by the Labour party over the Soviet imprisonment of Socialist dissidents.

I found this Russian joke in Alex de Jonge’s biography of Stalin. The Soviet dictator’s regime was notorious for the mass starvation caused through the collectivisation of agriculture. This was used by the government to smash popular opposition, particularly that of the kulaks, the peasants Lenin and the Bolsheviks saw as the enemy of Communism and the organised working class. This led to the witticism below

No bread in the villages: left deviation.
No bread in the towns: right deviation.
No bread anywhere: general line.

To which we could add: Unemployed people forced to scavenge in bins because of mass starvation: Excellent policies aimed at smashing anti-Soviet hooliganism and parasitism. Well done, Comrade Cameron!

CAmeron Stalin