Celestial Hellscapes: Cosmology as the Key to the Strugatskiis’ Science Fictions

Celestial Hellscapes: Cosmology as the Key to the Strugatskiis’ Science Fictions


Kevin Reese

Series: The Real Twentieth Century
ISBN: 9781618119797 (hardcover)
Pages: approx. 320 pp.
Publication Date: June 2019


Neither Arkadii nor Boris Strugatskii had originally intended to make a living in writing. Arkadii dreamed of becoming an astronomer, but his wartime experience and training led him to work as a translator and editor of Japanese literature. Boris intended to become a physicist, trained as an astronomer, and ended up as a computer specialist at Pulkovo Observatory. This common thread of astronomy turns out to be fantastically important for understanding their works, as their most important ones are experiments in cosmology, and their shared expertise is instrumental in their construction of literary hellscapes. This book explores how the Strugatskiis’ cosmological explorations are among the most fundamental elements of their art. It examines also how these explorations connect to their predecessors in the Russian literary tradition—particularly to the poetry of Pushkin.

Kevin Reese has been studying the Strugatskii brothers for twenty years. At UNC, he developed a course on Soviet science fiction centered around their works. Currently, he is translating the Strugatskiis’ final works—their novel Those Burdened by Evil and their play The Yids of the City of Peter.

Table of Contents

A note on the names of our “author”

The Strugatskiis’ Pushkinian Cosmology

Chapter 1: A Biography through Astronomy
Chapter 2: Minor Planets: the Strugatskiis’ Earlier Experiments in Cosmology
Chapter 3: The Hell of the Ignorant: The Second Martian Invasion
Chapter 4: Poincaré’s Starless Hell: The Inhabited Island
Chapter 5: Exceptions to the Laws of Thermodynamics: Roadside Picnic
Chapter 6: “Long live darkness!”: A Billion Years Until the End of the World
Chapter 7: The Island Universe and the Copper Doorknob: The Doomed City
Chapter 8: Chronic Bewilderment and Astronomical “Fact”: Those Burdened by Evil
Coda: “Day and night my Man in Black gives me no peace…”: The Yids of the City of Peter

Appendix I: The Altitude of Vega