Russian revolutionary interest in science fiction was inevitably bound up with the trajectory of the Russian revolution itself. The veteran Bolshevik and intermittent opponent of Lenin, Alexander Bogdanov, wrote a pioneering novel on space travel in 1908, in the aftermath of the famously incomplete revolutionary upheavals of 1905. Red Star relates the story of a Russian revolutionary who travels to Mars with an alien agent to learn about how the Martians organise their society along communist lines. In 1924, the movie Aelita, Queen of Mars flipped the script, relating the tale of a Russian Civil War veteran and an astronomer who travel to Mars to aid a revolutionary uprising. Clearly, much had happened in Russia to change the parameters of how science fiction might be imagined in the preceding years. Russians were no longer apprentices but masters and teachers of the revolutionary act. Nevertheless, both Red Star and Aelita emerged at moments in Russian history when revolutionary enthusiasm and optimism were on the wane. Was this a case of red-tinted telescopes turning away from the reality of reaction on terra firma and up to the stars, where a more comforting reality might be imagined?
|Poster for Aelita in Russian (1924)|
Aelita, Queen of Mars also shows how, in the context of gerrymandered soviet elections, secret police crack-downs and the failure of the German revolution, communists had to look to the stars to imagine the realisation of their utopia. A similar impulse can be detected in Alexandra Kollontai’s hopeful yet escapist utopian fragment, Soon.
The Soviet sci-fi vision would become more influenced by dystopian imaginings of the horrors of chemical warfare in the following years. Whether the post-war ‘return to the future’ in the context of the space race represented a re-emergence of political sci-fi utopianism will be the subject of Part Two.