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We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity (Early Classics of Science Fiction) by Anindita Banerjee
Review by Mel Jacob
Wesleyan Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780819573346
Date: 03 January 2013 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Webpage / Show Official Info /

We Modern People is not easy reading. Banerjee is an associate professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. This critical study examines the rise of science fiction in Russia from 1894 when the term scientific fantasy (romance) was first used until 1923 where Russia emerged from the political upheaval of the Russian Revolution. The study looks at how the genre developed and shaped Russian literature, cultural attitudes, and even scientific thinking and developments.

Banerjee used a variety of sources, but also acknowledges limitations because so much of the early Russian science fiction survives only in fragments and most of it is unavailable in English. The language is erudite and dense. The impact of the influence of Europe on Russian science and society is touched upon briefly. The book has an index, a chronology of events and developments, copious notes, and a list of sources for further reading.

The author uses metaphors that change over time beginning with the Trans-Siberian railroad bringing the east and west of the country together. The difference in geography had major impacts on attitudes and outlook. She then moves on to the impact of the electrical grid and electrical power and finally to the biological and psychological aspects of the mind and consciousness. While foreshadowed, space travel came much later. The various metaphors and tropes used shaped the Russian world and scientific view.

Banerjee touches briefly on the political effects of revolution within Russian society. Much more remains for others to explore. Russian science fiction did not end in 1923, but continued. Some was accepted and sanctioned by government while some was not. An examination of the differences would be enlightening and might provide insights to political changes wrought by Sputnik and space travel. Banerjee uses the analogy of science conquering Russian geography as the precursor of its space program.

Those interested in the literature of science fiction and Russian history will find much of interest in this review and analysis. Hopefully more Russian science fiction will appear in translation and in English publications.

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