A mysterious story about a surreal city from Russian science-fiction masters the Strugatsky brothers, translated into English for the first time.
Andrei is a Soviet astronomer from the 1950s. He now works as a trash collector, but he no longer lives in the USSR—or in the 1950s. Instead, he lives in an unknown time in the City, a strange place where the sun is extinguished like a lamp each night. The City is bordered on one side by an impossibly high wall and on the other side, by an abyss. Within these confines, troops of baboons appear out of nowhere, and sinister buildings appear and disappear at will—or do they? An inscrutable group called the Mentors has populated the City with people they’ve extracted from 20th-century times and places: Fritz, for example, was a German soldier in World War II, Selma was from 1970s Sweden, and Donald was an American college professor in the ’60s. They’ve all been brought to the City to participate in the Experiment, but no one knows precisely what its goal is. In successive episodes, the book follows Andrei as he’s shifted from job to job: first, he’s a diligent trash collector, then a police investigator, a senior editor of one of the City’s newspapers, a counselor to the president, and, finally, a soldier at war, before he reaches a surprising end. Most of the book’s action, if it can be called that, consists of people sitting around together and talking (and, more often than not, drinking). However, many readers will find it psychologically gripping to puzzle over what the City is and what will become of Andrei, although others may be frustrated by the lack of resolution. In the foreword by fellow Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, he points out that Soviet science fiction “transformed into a means for at least hinting at the true state of affairs.” Unfortunately, the story only hints, without ever fully explaining, and readers unversed in Soviet politics may feel as though they are missing out on deeper meanings. That said, it doesn’t detract from what’s otherwise a thought-provoking read.
An intriguing, if somewhat vague, speculative tale.