Must-Read Russian Sci-Fi Books

Russian science fiction, also called “cosmic fiction,” has a history that spans the 20th century to the present. It’s known for its dystopian and surreal settings, and its popular authors include the Strugatsky brothers, Kir Bulychev, and Yevgeny Zamyatin.

1. Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

‘Roadside Picnic’ by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is a unique and riveting science fiction novel. “Roadside Picnic” delves into the aftermath of an alien visitation, as a group of “stalkers” enter the mysterious “Zone” in search of alien artifacts. In a gripping and unforgettable story, the Strugatsky brothers masterfully blend science fiction, philosophy, and societal critique. Characters are complex, the plot is intricate, and the themes are thought-provoking. With ‘Roadside Picnic,’ you can join the stalkers on their perilous journey through the Zone and test your understanding of humanity and our place in the universe.

Links to Recommended Translations:

Olena Bormashenko

2. The Inhabited Island by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Enter the thrilling world of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s “The Inhabited Island.” Maxim Kammerer is stranded on a seemingly perfect planet, only to discover a society ruled by a powerful elite who controls its citizens using advanced technology. Kammerer joins a revolutionary movement to fight for liberty and to overthrow the oppressive ruling class. The masterful storytelling of the Strugatsky brothers, as well as their exploration of power, control, and humanity, make ‘The Inhabited Island’ a must-read for science fiction fans. Explore the complex and captivating world of ‘The Inhabited Island’ with Kammerer on his rebellious journey.

Links to Recommended Translations:

Andrew Bromfield

3. The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya

Learn about Tatyana Tolstaya’s strange and haunting world in “The Slynx,” a post-apocalyptic novel set in a surreal and dystopian Russia. The plot revolves around Benedikt, a man who lives in a world where books are scarce and mutation is common. Benedikt discovers a dark secret that threatens the very foundation of his society as he seeks a better life. Tolstaya’s distinct blend of dark humor, dramatic irony, and literary style distinguishes “The Slynx” from other dystopian novels. Immerse yourself in Tolstaya’s imaginative and haunting world for an unforgettable story.

Links to Recommended Translations:

Jamey Gambrell

4. The Andromeda Nebula by Ivan Yefremov

Ivan Yefremov’s “The Andromeda Nebula” is a classic of Soviet science fiction that explores themes of humanity, evolution, and the vastness of the universe. The story follows the crew of a spaceship as they journey to investigate a mysterious signal from the Andromeda galaxy in a future where humanity has colonized other planets. They encounter strange and fascinating civilizations along the way, as well as moral and philosophical dilemmas that challenge their understanding of their place in the universe. “The Andromeda Nebula” is sure to leave readers with a lasting impression.

Links to Recommended Translations:

N. Grishin

5. Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov

“Dog’s Heart,” by Mikhail Bulgakov, is a satirical true masterpiece. The novel employs a novel and unconventional premise to provide a profound and moving critique of Soviet society. Readers are taken on a journey through the political and social landscapes of the time as the story follows the transformation of a stray dog into a human, meeting a variety of characters who each represent different facets of society. “Dog’s Heart” is a great work because of Bulgakov’s razor-sharp wit and biting critique of Soviet society. “Dog’s Heart” is a timeless classic that will captivate and inspire readers for generations to come.

Links to Recommended Translations:

Mirra Ginsburg

6. Moscow 2042 by Vladimir Voinovich

Looking for a satirical and engaging perspective on Russian society’s future? Vladimir Voinovich’s “Moscow 2042” imagines a future in which the Soviet Union is resurrected and once again dominates the world. Voinovich skewers Soviet society and exposes totalitarianism’s flaws through satirical reflection and absurd situations. The story is told through the eyes of a dissident writer who is forced to confront the new regime’s absurdity and corruption. In “Moscow 2042,” Voinovich’s wit and insight provide a unique perspective, delivering a compelling and unforgettable read that will linger in readers’ minds long after the final page.

Links to Recommended Translations:

Richard Lourie

7. Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

“Day of the Oprichnik” by Vladimir Sorokin is a dystopian novel set in a future Russia in which a powerful ruling elite known as the Oprichniki seeks to resurrect Ivan the Terrible’s old ways. The plot follows the main character, Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, through a single day of various tasks involving violence, depravity, and political maneuvering. “Day of the Oprichnik” paints a compelling and unsettling picture of a tumultuous society, exposing brutalities and corruption. Sorokin’s novel is a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power and the erosion of individual liberties.

Links to Recommended Translations:

Jamey Gambrell

8. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Links to Recommended Translations:

Bela Shayevich

The speculative fiction work “We” penned by Yevgeny Zamyatin is situated in an imagined future society wherein the emphasis is placed on collectivism at the expense of individuality. Personal expression is prohibited by the totalitarian government in power, and conformity is not only expected but strictly enforced. The reader is given a glimpse of the oppressive world in which the protagonist, D-503, lives, complete with its stringent rules and regulations that pervade every aspect of life. Zamyatin’s work serves as a poignant reminder of the dangers of unchecked authority and the critical importance of preserving individual liberty in society.