Post by Anthony Nance
I finished Roadside Picnic last night and enjoyed it enough
to explore other works. I have Definitely Maybe already,
and I'm happy to track down other/better suggestions.
SFE3's article (http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/strugatski_arkady)
is somewhat confused and dated, but it's the best I can find online. I
would draw the lines between the Strugatskys' periods somewhat
The first period (1959-1962) is mostly readable, but not recommended.
The second period (1963-1968) is much better. The highlights include:
1. _Hard to be a God_ (1964). Advanced humans watch as a backward alien
(but humanoid to a fault) society lurches from one disaster to the next.
Some of the secretly embedded humans struggle with the constraints
imposed by their version of the Prime Directive.
2. _Monday Begins on Saturday_ (1965). A humorous urban fantasy in the
"Unknown" tradition. Soviet scientists study and practice magic with
the help of computers, magicians and other "science fantasy" furniture.
3. _The Final Circle of Paradise_ (1965). John Kenneth Galbraith's
"affluent society" struggles with the curse of prosperity in the early
21st century. How do you uplift the masses whose interests are limited
to "bread and circuses"?
4. _The Second Invasion from Mars_ (1968). An alternative version of H.
G. Wells' Martian invasion as seen by a philistine.
I would start with #1 and, if you like it, work your way down the list.
The third period (1968-1971) is darker, more political and more
surrealistic. _Tale of the Troika_ is a much darker and more sarcastic
sequel to _Monday Begins on Saturday_. _The Snail on the Slope_ consists
of two complementary parts, one Kafkian, the other one ... strange. The
premise of _Prisoners of Power_ is similar to _Hard to be a God_ except
the locals are more advanced (20th century technology) and the human
protagonist is an "accidental tourist" who learns the "ways of the
world" the hard the way. _The Ugly Swans_ is set in a decaying
totalitarian society facing an uncertain future.
Not surprisingly, these books had a hard time finding a publisher in the
USSR. Some were heavily censored, others were only published in the West.
The fourth period started in 1970/1972 (there was some overlap with the
third period) and lasted until the final Soviet liberalization in the
late 1980s. The brother continued writing political and philosophical SF
in secret while producing apolitical SF which had a reasonable chance
of getting published in the USSR. As of 2016 all of the latter is
available in English:
1. _The Dead Mountaineer's Inn_ (1970, English translation originally
announced as _Inspector Glebsky's Puzzle_) is an SF mystery set on Earth
2. _Space Mowgli_ (1971) is a far future first contact novel with a twist
3. _Roadside Picnic_ (1972), which you have already read
4. _Definitely Maybe_ (1976-1977), the only one that managed to sneak
in a disguised political message
5. _Beetle in the Anthill_ (1979) and _The Time Wanderers_ (1986),
two sequels to _Prisoners of Power_. Posthumans: threat or menace?
The fifth period began in 1988 when Gorbachev's liberalization enabled
the brothers to start publishing the works which they had been working
on since the early 1970s (see above.) Only one of them (_The Doomed
City_) is currently available in English.
I should also note that the quality of English translations varies quite
a bit. Alas, the Strugatskys were not as lucky as Stanislaw Lem: Michael
Kandel's translations of Lem's SF were excellent.