Russian science fiction and fantasy2017 1 008
Science fiction and fantasy have been part of mainstream Russian literature since the 19th century. Russian fantasy developed from the centuries-old traditions of Slavic mythology and folklore. Russian science fiction emerged in the mid-19th century and rose to its golden age during the Soviet era, both in cinema and literature, with writers like the Strugatsky brothers, Kir Bulychov, and Mikhail Bulgakov, among others. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, modern Russia experienced a renaissance of fantasy. Outside modern Russian borders, there are a significant number of Russophone writers and filmmakers from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, who have made a notable contribution to the genres.
In the Russian language, fantasy, science fiction, horror and all other related genres are considered a part of a larger umbrella term, фантастика (fantastika), roughly equivalent to "speculative fiction", and are less divided than in the West. The Russian term for science fiction is научная фантастика (nauchnaya fantastika), which can be literally translated as "scientific fantasy". Since there was very little adult-oriented fantasy fiction in Soviet times, Russians did not use a specific term for this genre until Perestroika. Although Russian language has a literal translation for 'fantasy', фантазия (fantaziya), the word refers to a dream or imagination, not literary genre. Today, Russian publishers and literary criticians use direct English transcription, фэнтези (fentezi). Gothic and supernatural stories are often referred to as мистика (mistika, Russian for mysticism), a term with no direct equivalent in the West.
In the second half of the 20th century, Soviet science fiction authors, inspired by the Thaw period of the 1950 and 1960s and the country's space pioneering, developed a more varied and complex approach. The liberties of the genre offered Soviet writers a loophole for free expression. Social science fiction, concerned with philosophy, ethics, utopian and dystopian ideas, became the prevalent subgenre. Most Soviet writers still portrayed the future Earth optimistically, as a communist utopia - some did it frankly, some to please publishers and avoid censorship. Postapocalyptic and dystopian plots were usually placed outside Earth — on underdeveloped planets, in the distant past, or on parallel worlds. Nevertheless, the settings occasionally bore allusion of the real world, and could serve as a satire of contemporary society.
Many science fiction books, especially children's, were made into films, animation and TV. The most adapted Russian SF author was Bulychov; of the numerous films based on Alisa Selezneva stories, animation Mystery of the Third Planet (1981) is probably the most popular. Other Bulychov-based films include Per Aspera Ad Astra (1981), Guest from the Future (1985), Lilac Ball (1987), Two Tickets to India (1985) and others.
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Andrey Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979) was written by the Strugatskys, and is loosely based on their Roadside Picnic; there were also less successful films based on Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979) and Hard to Be a God (1989). Aelita (1924) was the first Soviet SF film, and Engineer Garin was made into film twice, in 1965 and in 1973. Amphibian Man (1962), The Andromeda Nebula (1967), Ivan Vasilyevich (1973), Heart of a Dog (1988), Sannikov's Land (1974) and Electronic (1980) were filmed as well.
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There were also numerous adaptations of foreign science fiction books, most frequently, by Jules Verne, Stanislaw Lem and Ray Bradbury. Of the movies based on original scripts, the comedy Kin-dza-dza! (1986) and children's space opera duology Moscow-Cassiopeia (1973) and Teens in the Universe (1974) should be noted.
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Fantasy, mythology and folklore were often present in Soviet film and animation, especially children's. Most films were adaptations of traditional fairy tales and myths, both Russian and foreign. But there were also many adaptations of stories by Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Rudyard Kipling, Astrid Lindgren, Alan Alexander Milne, among many others.
There were numerous fantasy feature films by Alexander Rou (Kashchey the Deathless, Barbara the Fair with the Silken Hair (1969), Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors (1963), etc. And Alexander Ptushko (Viy (1967), Sadko (1952) , Scarlet Sails (1961), Ruslan and Ludmila (1972), A Tale of Lost Times (1964), etc. Fantasy animated features were produced by directors like Lev Atamanov (Snow Queen (1957), Scarlet Flower by Irina Povolotskaya, etc.), Ivan Ivanov-Vano (The Twelve Months (1956), The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1984), etc.)
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The late Soviet era saw a number of adult-oriented fabulous films, close to magic realism. They were written by Shvartz (An Ordinary Miracle), Gorin (Formula of Love, The Very Same Munchhausen), and Strugatskies (Magicians); most of them were directed by Mark Zakharov.
Several Soviet fantasy films were co-produced with foreign studios. Most notably, Mio in the Land of Faraway (1987, co-produced with USA and Sweden) was shot by a Soviet crew in English language, and featured Christoper Lee and Christian Bale. Other examples include The Story of Voyages (1983, co-produced with Czechoslovakia and Romania) and Sampo (1959, co-produced with Finland).
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