Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky: Science Fiction and Philosophy in the History of Soviet Space Exploration

Michael Holquist

Science fiction has a special standing in Russian and Soviet history because both science and fiction have played a unique role in shaping that history. Literature in Russia has traditionally been accorded a status far beyond that enjoyed in other countries. Figures as diverse as Chernyshevsky in the nineteenth century and Solzhenitsyn in our own time have always been there to remind us that literature is constantly taking on tasks that in other cultures are performed by philosophy, social thought, and even theology: Russian literature, in short, has been pursued for purposes far exceeding the merely aesthetic pleasure it might provide. So much is generally recognized in the West. Much less attention has been paid to the extra-scientific motivation that is at the heart of much Russian science: much as literature has been required to do more in Russia than elsewhere, so science has been expected to provide more than merely scientific results. Indeed, the filiation of science and fiction is even more tightly woven: there is a very real sense in which some of the most important Russian science has been prosecuted for ends that must strike any outsider as precisely fictive. We may be more precise. Russian science, or at least an important strand of it, does its work (which may, of course, have the most actual scientific consequence) in a literary context that can be further specified as a branch of utopianism. The purpose of this paper is to provide a specific instance of this thesis.

On October 4, 1957, headlines of a size usually reserved to announce declarations of war gave us the news that the Russians had succeeded in placing a man-made satellite into orbit around the earth. The most immediate effect, internationally, was one of

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