And another book in review collection, last from my vacation binge, queue is slowly clearing and I’m not reading past week or so, trying to rest my eyes some more while in the bus, not sure if they are tired or it’s just heating season making air to dry, since I think it was the same last year. Wouldn’t hurt to let them rest anyway though and for reviews I still have plenty of books too.
Today it’s time to get to the fairy tale by Strugatsky, this one is a bit of a weird one for non-soviet person, even younger generations of Russians probably will not understand a lot of humour and messages here, honestly I potentially missed some myself, since I might be a boomer, but not that old. Still it’s a very good book and might be just interesting window back into that era (why I also like Strugatsky’s books). Now with more details…
Fairy tale is how they labeled the book themselves, even though it kinda fits, especially since there are characters and references to our actual folklore and fairy tales (not only Russian too). This book is actually more comedy genre (which is not very common for Strugatsky brothers), but in the same time it also slams a lot of actual topics from back then and tbh from modern days too – bureaucracy, pseudo-science, consumerism etc. Apparently considered one of their most famous books and quotes from it were used all over the place, also has a movie based on it, but it’s quite far from the book itself outside of “setting”, pretty popular movie though.
Main character is actually a coder, computer operator, not fantastic one though, inspired by actual people doing that in research institutes in 1965 when book was written. Plot is a bit of a spoiler, because in the beginning of the book you slowly get introduced to references and characters that make you realize what’s happening in a way, so keep that in mind if you want to read rest of this paragraph. During his vacation he gives some random dudes a ride and after learning that he’s working with computers they invite him to work in their institution, promising very interesting job and good pay. It sure ends up being very interesting, because that institution studies magic and main character meets Baba Yaga and bunch of other characters from fairy tales who all work in the institute and some of the “gear” of theirs or from fairy tales is a property of institute and an object of research. Merlin, Odin, lots of mythical creatures – all of that is a part of the institution, studying magic, predicting weather and not only, researching happiness and so on. Basically book is sorta “slice of life” of that institute from perspective of new person who’s getting used to it and learning it more through the book. No epic main message or something, just lots of references, puns, humour and slamming of stereotypical scientific institution in soviet times with its issues.
I really enjoyed reading this book personally and plan to read the sequel (that one apparently had a lot of issues with censorship etc), but I do think that it might be hard to understand for people who don’t understand references and some nuances of the setting from soviet times. Apparently it’s quite popular now again, because a lot of problems memed on in this book are still around and intensifying in a way, so it might still be digested by modern audience, but generations that haven’t encountered leftovers of soviet union and haven’t watched a lot of movies/cartoons from that era might have harder time. Same for people who aren’t from here at all, might be a bit hard to understand some things, but overall should still have some humour understandable and might be an interesting way to learn some things about Russian culture and soviet times with google’s help. I’d totally recommend for someone curious enough, but it’s totally not as universal recommend as their regular sci-fi stuff, even though those books also have some soviet spirit to them understanding which helps a lot with enjoying the book, but it’s not as big of a deal.