Soviet science fiction play from 1935.

Red Planet.  The Red Planet was created by “Gospod Svyatykh” and appeared in the play Krasnaya Planeta (Red Planet, 1935). “Gospod Svyatykh” (“Lord Saintly”) is the pseudonym of an unknown author.

Red Planet is set 600 years in the future, when the Earth has been completely taken over by the forces of the Revolution and all the countries of the world belong to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Earth is a communist paradise; there is no hunger, no want, and no unhappiness. All workers have their places and are satisfied with them, and every harvest is a good one. The capitalist West is so long gone as to be forgotten, and there is peace between all nations. However, the USSR has a new enemy: the “Strana Obratnoy Geometrii,” the Country of Inverse Geometry, a two-dimensional capitalist country which intends to invade the third dimension of Earth. The wise masters of the USSR bring together a crack team of men and women to fight the Inverse Geometrists and ultimately defeat them.

Science fiction was not unknown in the early years of the Soviet Union. During the “New Economic Period” (1921-1928), after the Revolution was over and when the West’s attempt to overthrow the nascent Soviet Union had failed, the Russian people began buying and reading adventure novels of all genres from the West. The Soviet government immediately began pressuring Russian writers and publishers to create adventure novels with ideologically correct characters. In 1923 the Soviet government began an organized campaign for the exploitation of the popularity of the adventure genre for ideological and propagandistic purposes: the krasnyi Pinkertonitscha (Red Pinkertonism) movement, which made use of the classic tropes of adventure and detective fiction, but slaved them to the theme of international class struggle and the triumph of the Revolution. Detective fiction was the genre most influenced, but science fiction was also influenced by the krasnyi Pinkertonitscha, and over the next decade a large amount of communist pulp science fiction appeared.

The krasnyi Pinkertonitscha movement continued through the 1920s into 1932. Its authors faced increasing criticism from hardline literary critics for their “bourgeois” elements, from the formulaic characters to the supposed ideological incompatibility of Soviet collectivist values with individualistic protagonists. But the Soviet government did not put an end to the krasnyi Pinkertonitscha until 1932, when the government decreed that Soviet literature and film must be explicitly collectivist and Communist, and literature bearing foreign influence, such as genre fiction, was fundamentally suspect. This did not put an end to science fiction, which continued to appear until the beginning of World War Two, but it did drive it away from the pulp medium into mainstream literature and especially on to the stage. Collectivist science fiction became relatively common on the stage during these years: playwright Ilya Selvinksy in particular became known for his collectivist science fiction, such as Umka, Belyi Medved’ (1933), about a polar bear who becomes indoctrinated into Soviet Communism, and Pao-Pao (1933), about a German scientist who transplants part of a human brain into the head of an orangutan and teaches the newly-intelligent orangutan to become a proper communist.

Krasnaya Planeta is in this mode. Appropriately for its time (the government was particularly brutal with deviationists in the mid-1930s), Krasnaya Planeta goes farther than previous plays in removing individualism itself from the play, which was not the case with Umka and Pao-Pao but which was a goal of the communist government. Krasnaya Planeta does not have characters, but character types who are identified as such in the program: the New Man, the New Woman, the Worker, the Bureaucrat, the Engineer, the Aviator, and so on. Each individual character type contributes different things to the fight against the Inverse Geometrists: the Engineer comes up with new weapons to use against the Geometrists, the Worker provides the labor, the Bureaucrat analyzes information about the Geometrists, the Aviator flies missions against them, and the New Man and the New Woman oversee all operations.

Interestingly, Krasnaya Planeta shows some knowledge of previous Soviet science fiction and even has references to them in the play—a rarity in Soviet popular culture, which strictly avoided both continuity and metatextual references. The Country of the Inverse Geometrists and the plot of Krasnaya Planeta are lifted from Venjamin Kaverin’s Inzhenir Shvartz (1923). The New Man and New Woman are straight out of both Soviet propaganda and Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s Chto Delat? (1862-1863), being seemingly modeled on Chernyshevsky’s proto-Doc Savage character Rakhmetov. Comments about “the other Red Planet” and the Communist paradise on it seem to be references to Alexei Tolstoi’s Aelita, either the novel (1922) or the film (1924). There are even references to psychic policemen (Aleksandr Beliayev’s Vlastelin Mira, 1929), the preserved, conscious brain of Lenin (Beliayev’s Golova Professora Douelia, 1925), and hyper-intelligent elephants (Beliayev’s Hoity-Toity, 1927).

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