“Red Skies: Soviet Sci-Fi”

"The Heavens Call" movie poster (1959)

This morning, I came across a very cool article in Scoop.it, about science fiction as a genre in the former Soviet Union. As it explained, until recently this area has remained virtually unexplored, with historians focusing on the “greats” of the 1920’s – men like Eisenstein – and the “socialist realism” of the 1930’s (aka. Stalinist propaganda). However, between those decades and the opening up of the former Soviet Union in 91, a lot of interesting developments happened. And, interestingly enough, it seems as though sci-fi in the Eastern Bloc went through a similar transition to that in the west.

And let’s not forget that, even though there was a very real wall preventing cultural exchange between East and West during these years, some degree of exchange did take place. Take for example Yevgeny Zamyatin, author of “We“. His classic tale of a super-rationalized world state where emotion and individuality were suppressed and sex served only reproductive purposes had a profound influence on George Orwell, Ayn Rand and (presumably) Aldous Huxley, thought he denied ever reading it.

In addition, Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita (Queen of Mars), a story about a man who travels to Mars and finds a totalitarian government which he helps to topple, inspired a movie adaptation. Made in 1924 and featuring constructivist-style sets, the movie had a profound influence on Fritz Lang, who’s 1927 classic Metropolis featured sets of similar design. The 1957 film Road to Mars, directed by the famous Pavel Klushantsev, contained several slow-motion scenes of astronauts floating weightlessly through space. This movie apparently had a profound influence on Stanley Kubrick and his shooting of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

And with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the west was flooded with previously inaccessible stories which began to be adapted (or plagiarized, depending on your point of view). Not the least of these was Hungarian sci-fi writer István Nemere’s story Holtak harca. Translated to “Fight of the Dead”, this story is about a criminal and a police officer who are cryogenically frozen, only to wake up in a future where society has been purged of violent behavior. This story became the basis for the Hollywood movie Demolition Man, not to mention a law suit or two!

In any case, it’s a good read and makes me think I should be on the lookout for added movies and book titles. Here’s the link and I recommend checking it out:

http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/49760

13 thoughts on ““Red Skies: Soviet Sci-Fi”

  1. This is a great article! Thanks for linking to it.

    I was glad to see that Stanislaw Lem was mentioned in it, who was an amazing Polish SF writer. His “Solaris” is a great philosophical mind-trip, and if you haven’t gotten a chance to read it (or see one of the three movie adaptations), you should put it on your list to check out!

    1. Oh its on my list, for sure. I got the novel, which I insist on reading before seeing the movies. Still looking for a copy of the original movie where the audio actually works though 😛

      1. Well, there’s actually a ton of science fiction literature in Russian, it’s just not translated. By the way, the title should’ve been “The Sky is Calling”, cause that’s what on the poster.

  2. It’s a logical progression when you think about it. The space race was realy only between the US and the USSR. The underlying facination with space, science fiction, and the desire to get there first were very similar in both countries. Both countries viewed it as the ultimate expression of scientific superiority and it is interesting that both countries viewed the same exact thing as proof that thier world view was better than the other country’s ideology and way of life.

  3. Have you seen Aelita (Queen of Mars)? It’s worth it — for the sets alone — the plot and this was all the dream ending doesn’t make for a great film per se but definitely important for soviet science fiction and sci-fi movies in general.

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