In 1977, Americans were introduced to Kirill Bulychev, a science fiction writer from the Soviet Union, when Half A Life And Other Stories was first published in English. Even today, these stories still hold up as beautifully crafted tales.
The reason these sci-fi stories have not gotten stale is that Kirill Bulychev is much m ore concerned with the emotions and motivations of the people than with the imagined technical innovations of the future.
Kirill Bulychev’s stories were very popular in the Soviet Union, and the authorities never seemed to catch on to the fact that there were hidden anti-Soviet messages in many of the stories. In totalitarian countries, science fiction stories have often been able to get “radical” ideas past the government censors, since Sci-FI is never considered “serious literature.”
The title story Half A Life is about a young Russian woman named Natasha, who is suddenly captured by robots from outer space. The robots are collecting samples of intelligent life forms from throughout the galaxy and taking them to a sort of prison ship for examination. Natasha struggles to retain her humanity and dignity, and slowly begins to form a coalition with the other prisoners against the robots. Although the prisoners know there is almost no chance of escape, they agree that their lives would be a waste if they did not at least try to fight back.
Somehow the Soviet censors failed to notice that this alien spaceship actually represented the Soviet Gulag prison system. Natasha simply disappeared one night and her family had no idea what had happened to her or if she would ever return . This is exactly what happened to thousands of ordinary Soviet citizens as they were sent to prison.
Natasha’s struggle against her captors and her pride in survival is reminiscent of the book One Day In the Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. However, unlike Solshenitsyn, Bulychev was never considered a “dissident.” The social commentary in Bulychev’s science fiction stories was able to sneak right past the Soviet censors.
Another story titled Red Dear White Dear takes place on a planet where intelligent humanoid life has been wiped out by violent ape-like creatures. The story notes that,
“Nature is cruel to intelligence. Still untempered and unaware of its potential strength; it hovers always on the brink of extinction.”
Joseph Stalin believed he could create a “workers paradise” using violence and oppression
This is a clear reference to the days of Stalin’s “workers’ paradise”, when being labeled an intellectual was a sure ticket to the gulag.
Kirill Buluchev himself outlasted the Soviet Union, despite being an intellectual. Kirill Bulychev was the pen name of Igor Vsevolodovich Mozheiko who lived from 1934 to 2003. He had a PhD in Oriental Studies. He was a prolific writer, although many American’s still have not of heard of him.
So if you love short stories and science fiction we recommend you read the works of Kirill Bulychev. It is best to start at the beginning with his 1977 Half A LIfe.