Paul Krugman (dimly) remembers an essay about Soviet SF:
... most science fiction is about one of two thoughts: “if only”, or “if this goes on”. Both were subversive, from the Soviet point of view: the first implied that things could be better, the second that there was something wrong with the way things are. So stories had to be written about “if only this goes on”, extolling the wonders of being wonderful Soviets.
Emphasis mine for clarity (I missed the point myself the first time). He is apparently mangling somewhat his memory of Isaac Asimov's introduction to a collection of Soviet SF which I read myself as a kid when I was about eleven or twelve.
I was at the time just cognizant enough of the Soviet Union not exactly being a bastion of freedom of thought; one of the first books I discovered in my father's bookshelf and read all the way through at the tender age of I think eight was none other than The Gulag Archipelago. (At eleven, Last Exit to Brooklyn.)
It was my brother who introduced me to many of the mainstays of SF from abroad, mainly Eastern Europe. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic (which became the inspiration for the movie Stalker), and what with Poland still under Communism at the time, Stanisław Lem (Solaris). Picnic has since been reissued in a new translation which addresses many problems in the previous English edition, and I've made a note to myself to get caught up with it when I'm not horribly buried in other things. The Strugatskys were one of those SF authors I read as a youngster and wondered why the vast, vast majority of the rest of SF wasn't anywhere nearly as interesting. It was a short leap from there (again, thanks to my brother) to Evgeny Zamyatin's We, still my favorite dystopia, and one of the few books I point to without hesitation as an influence.
One of the curious things I remember about SF under Communism was that most of it was given a pass by the censors, because it wasn't considered to be dangerous to state security or public morals. That allowed at least some treatment of ideas that wouldn't pass in a more "mainstream" novel, because the censors (in many cases quote correctly) assumed the readership for such work would be too narrow to pose any threat. I suspected a great deal of whatever was published outside the country never made it into Russian, or if it did, only after considerable mutilation.
The most recent work of SF/fantasy out of Russia that I know of is the Nightwatch series, which I picked up the first book for and somehow completely forgot to read. I'll have to do something about that in due time as well.
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