The Doomed City
By Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (translated by Andrew Bromfield)
Science fiction in the Soviet Union had a special status, being a mainstream genre used both as propaganda and subversive allegory. The Strugatsky brothers – probably best known in these parts for their novel Roadside Picnic, which was the source for Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker – were the biggest names in Soviet SF in the 1970s, but The Doomed City, which was completed in 1972, wasn’t published until sixteen years later and is only getting its first English translation now.
The doomed, or damned, city exists in a parallel universe and is part of some unspecified experiment that alien “mentors” are undertaking using immigrants from our world as lab rats. It’s a work that recalls classic Hollywood dystopias like Proyas’s Dark City and Gilliam’s Brazil, but is distinctly of its own time and place as well.
As Boris Strugatsky writes in an Afterword, it was perfectly obvious that such a book had no prospects. It’s a Kafkaesque political and philosophical parable, but unlike with The Castle the rot isn’t the product of an overgrown and sclerotic bureaucracy but instead grows out of an ideology that’s become rigid to the point of absurdity. What’s truly remarkable (and disturbing) is that such a message has as much to say to us today as it did to people living in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. It’s a vital, exciting, and essential book.