On my dad’s birthday in 1963, Arkady Strugatsky wrote to his brother Boris:
…the entire program which you outlined can be completed in five days. But first I’d like to tell you, my pale, flabby brother, that I’m for a light kind of thing–I’m talking about Seventh Heaven. So women would cry, walls would laugh, and five hundred villains would shout, “Get him! Get him!” — and they wouldn’t be able to do a thing with one communist.
Not one thing. And isn’t Arkady dreamy?
Seventh Heaven, would later be called The Observer and then Hard to Be a God, and it is truly a splendid tale–plenty of adventure to enjoy, some evil totalitarianism to shake a fist at, some intellectual puzzles to ponder, and all in space. Marvelous.
I am fascinated by the process of these two brothers writing together. In this case the wonderful afterword as written by Boris shows at least for this book, Arkady coming up with the main idea, the ‘sturdy substantial skeleton’. And then he fights for it. Five days after the letter above, he writes:
About The Observer [already the title has changed, how quickly they move!]. If you’re interested in a rush of tumultuous life, then you will have a full opportunity to spill your guts in Days of Kraken and The Magicians. But what I’d like to do is write a novel about abstract nobility, honor, and joy, like Dumas. And don’t you dare argue. Just one story without modern problems in naked form. I’m begging on my knees, bastard! My sword, my sword! Cardinals! Port taverns!
Swoon. I try to imagine collaborating like this with any of my three brothers and it leads me to wonder how many fist fights they had, days of not talking to each other…and yet their collaboration seems so fruitful, with multiple projects at play that I now get to read.
Just one story without modern problems in naked form. I’m begging on my knees…
I’m fairly smitten with Arkady. Of course, if he hadn’t tossed out all of Boris’s letters, I might be smitten with him too.
But god I want to write an adventure story. I can’t believe I have to work.
On a final note about the book itself: I have to acknowledge this translation by Olena Bormashenko, it is beautifully written. This edition of course contains the fantastic afterward by Boris — and this includes some of the politics about getting it published, which are equally fascinating. It has all the gravitas of the film version used as the cover. It doesn’t quite capture My sword, my sword! though, does it? It is definitely appealing to the upper ranks of readers of ‘books in translation’, particularly of the high literature of the Russian variety. But I prefer one of the older ones, which captures nothing of the book but its exuberance. Daw paperbacks, how I miss you!