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BOOK
Worlds Apart: An Anthology of Russian Fantasy and Science Fiction (Hardback)

Editor: Alexander Levitsky
Duckworth
RRP: 25.00, US $37.95, Cdn $45.00
ISBN: 978 1 5856 7819 8
Available 13 September 2007


Speculative literature has had a long history, as long as man has been telling stories we have always wondered... What If? The themes and backgrounds have changed over time, after all you could not have had science fiction without the advent of a technological society. Fantasy, however, has always formed a part of the collective consciousness, from the fairy stories of youth to the epic Homeric poems of our latter years. Each country and culture draws upon its rich heritage of folk tales to create new stories for each generation and Russia is no different...

Worlds Apart is a new anthology of Russian fantasy and science fiction edited by Alexander Levitsky. Professor Levitsky is a native of Prague whose main area of research is in the field of Russian, Slavic and Czech poetry and prose and is a specialist in eighteenth century and modern Russian Literature. The professor holds a chair in Slavic languages and literature at Brown University in America. All this would indicate that the good professor has an impressive command of his subject.

Although the style of the book betrays its roots in academia, that should in no way put anyone off who has a serious interest in examining the place of fantasy and science fiction writing in Russian culture. This book will be of interest to anyone who wants to expand their overall knowledge of the genre. It is a serious work, as befits a serious subject. Both science fiction and fantasy are often belittled without any reason or understanding. Works of this kind help to address this unfounded denigration of a whole subsection of literature. As far as I am aware this is the only work which looks at how fantasy and science fiction developed in a country which has undergone various radical transformations over the last one hundred and fifty years.

The various pieces which appear in this six hundred and fifty page anthology - a veritable door stop of a book - have not only been chosen by Professor Levitsky, but also translated by him. The book is in two parts. The first collects works under the heading of Russian Early-Modern Fantasy and Utopian Thought and contains works from the earliest folklore up to the end of the nineteenth century. The second part, Modern Russian Fantasy, Utopia and Science Fiction, covers the end of the Nineteenth century up to the latter part of the twentieth century. The sections are further subdivided and each section and subdivision is proceeded by an informative introduction or analysis.

The book contains both fantastical poetry and prose, some of which have had to be presented as excerpts, although many are translations of the full work. Obviously, given the scope of the book, it would be impractical to reproduce everything in its complete form.

The overall delight of the book is discovering that some well known authors such as Pushkin, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky can be included in this category of literature (one in the eye for those who think that only fan boys write and read this stuff), but more that this is the delight of being able to be introduced to authors that you may never of heard of and having their work placed accurately within their cultural background.

Please do not be put off the book if it all sounds a bit academic, expand your mind and horizons and spend a little time with Professor Levitsky.

Charles Packer

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