Tag Archives: soviet

[Sep. 15, 1962] Communist Defector (Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Sun)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Roger Corman, the Savant of Schlock is back with a most unusual motion picture.  With incredible puissance, Corman stretches a dime such that he makes “A” quality out of “B” films (q.v. House of Usher, Little Shop of Horrors, Panic in Year Zero, etc.) But Corman takes a different tack with his latest flick, Battle Beyond the Sun.  From what I’ve read, it was originally a Soviet film, which Corman then redubbed and edited for American consumption.  The result is…interesting, and not an unrewarding experience.

The film begins with a somewhat non sequitur narrated sequence displaying a host of spacecraft models.  These are of current and futuristic design.  While a pretty sequence, it is better suited to one of the NASA documentary films you see on TV.  The rather ponderous narration continues as the setting is introduced: in the near future, an atomic war devastates the planet and erases political boundaries.  Once the Earth recovers, it is divided into two rival states: North Hemis and South Hemis.  Interestingly, the former includes what was once the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.  The latter comprises latin Europe, South America, Africa, and most of Asia.

Now it is 1997, and both nations are on the verge of sending a manned mission to Mars.  The South Hemis spaceship Mercury, docked at the orbiting station, Angkor, is undergoing final preparations when a distress call is received.  It is a North Hemis spacecraft, the Typhoon, in need of repair.  The Angkor personnel, apolitical in their devotion to science, open their airlocks to their distressed adversaries. 

But when the North Hemisians learn of the Mercury’s impending flight, they foolhardily depart with their half-fixed vessel in an attempt to reach the Red Planet first.  They run afoul of the sun’s magnetic field along the way, crippling the ship and leaving it in a helpless spiral toward extinction. 

Of course, the self-sacrificing and noble South Hemisians cannot let the Typhoon‘s crew die, no matter their treachery.  So begins an exciting adventure as the Mercury sails off to rescue the Typhoon, finds itself in need of saving, too, ultimate success resting in the hands of a third, prototype spaceship.  Will they make it to Mars?  Can they get back?  You’ll have to watch and find out.

The most striking aspects of this film stem from its Soviet provenance.  I recently reviewed the volume, More Soviet Science Fiction, and I note Battle shares the same grand stateliness with the first story of that collection.  Everything is larger than life.  The Director of Spaceflight sits virtually alone in an enormous control room, her voice echoing in the chamber.  Launchpads are giant, austere things.  The final scene is a sweeping pageant of clamoring humanity. 

There is, of course, the lackluster dubbing (par for the course if you’ve watched Japanese imports), and I imagine we lose a bit of the original plot.  But I was impressed with the lack of political bias.  Battle is a tale of the community of science winning out over personal or national ambition.  It was clearly a high budget film, with excellent use of matting, fine modelwork, and stunning costumes.

Technologically, it’s a big of a mixed bag.  I liked the fact that ships had to turn over to decelerate, and I was impressed with the way the astronauts’ couches reclined to always be perpendicular to the direction of thrust.  The filmmakers were obviously impressed with this effect, too — it gets shown a lot

In the demerits department, we have the fact that ships sail across the solar system in what appears to be a matter of hours.  With engines that powerful, one wonders how it’s taken so long to get a person to Mars.  Also, the superfluous mid-movie fight between purple space monsters, advertised heavily in the trailers, is both nonsensical and was clearly created in post-production as a way to jazz up the film.

But the movie doesn’t need it.  I fully expected Battle to be a ponderous mess, but it actually moves along quite nicely.  It was certainly much better than the Italian flick, Assignment: Outer Space

Three stars, and a keen desire to someday see the original.


by Lorelei Marcus

Strap in and recline your seats, because we’re going on a space adventure! This week me and my father watched, “Battle Beyond the Sun,” a Soviet science fiction film brought to the U.S. I didn’t have very high hopes going into this movie, but my dad promised purple space monsters, so, reluctantly, I agreed.

Surprisingly, the movie wasn’t bad! It was actually quite interesting to compare a Soviet film to the (mostly) American films we’ve watched so far. The cinematography was different, but still quite good, and the space suits looked cool and realistic. The voice actors who did the overdub for the movie were sub-par to say the least, but it didn’t take away from the movie too much. I noticed throughout the movie that all the actors had a certain ‘closeness:’ they were all simply closer together: Their faces were closer when talking, they had hands on each others’ shoulders, etc. That’s certainly different from the wide personal bubble we Americans prefer.

The story, on the other hand, wasn’t too far off from what I would expect in a science fiction film. The movie was about the two halves of the globe, North Hemis and South Hemis, and their race to Mars. The South Hemis ship gets stranded on an asteroid orbiting mars, after rescuing the North Hemis ship. Then there’s the odd and unnecessary scene of the purple space monsters fighting each other, which apparently wasn’t added in until it made it to the U.S. It was really unnecessary, but I suppose it did get me to the watch the movie!

For most of the movie me and my dad thought that the U.S. And Soviet Union were in different nations. It wasn’t until after the movie that we realized it was actually the opposite: Soviet Union and America in the North, and basically everyone else in the South. It struck me that they had purposefully done this to avoid labeling political sides, which was not something I would expect the Soviet Union would do!

Overall this was a pretty good movie. The effects were cool and the story was passable. The foreign influence also added a unique feel to the movie. I give this movie 3/5 stars and 1/5 purple space monsters (this movie either needed more or fewer purple space monsters.) I still recommend you watch this movie yourself, as it is an interesting contrast to the other science fiction movies I’ve seen so far.

Until next time…this is the Young Traveler, signing off.




[July 24, 1962] Comrade Future (More Soviet Science Fiction)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

We hear a lot about the Soviet Union these days, but usually in the form of an unflattering cartoon of Premier Khruschev or photos of people trying to defect from Communism.  Occasionally a hopeful reprinting last year’s meeting between Jack and Niki in Vienna or a scornful reprinting of Khruschev banging his shoe on the United Nations podium.

If we think about the Soviet people, head-scarfed Babushkas, gray-suited apparatchiks, uniformed goose-stepping soldiers, and accordion-playing dancers come to mind.  We just don’t get many glimpses from behind the Iron Curtain.  So when we do get a peek, it’s an exciting opportunity.  For instance, Time-Life just released a new picture-book on Russia, which sheds a little light on a hidden section of the world.

Another surprise is a new collection of Soviet science fiction called (appropriately enough) More Soviet Science Fiction

This book, along with the anthology’s predecessor and the occasional Josef Svebada reprint in Fantasy and Science Fiction, comprises all of the Eastern Bloc sf literature available in English.  As such, it’s difficult to determine if these stories are representative of Soviet sf as a whole, or rather cherry-picked for their intended audience.  There are some commonalities that are suggestive either of a Soviet style, or at least what the editor thinks would appeal to foreigners.  Certainly, there is a kind of mild clunkyness one comes to expect from a less than expert translation, though it never detracts seriously from the reading.  Rather, it just accentuates the foreign nature of the material.

Another universal aspect is the emphasis on explaining the science.  Fully a page or two of each story gets extremely technical; the Soviets eschew more integrated scientific exposition.  It’s almost as if laying out their case in full is a requirement of publication. 

Finally, all of the stories have an edifying component.  They are all parables – whatever entertainment value they may provide, you are supposed to learn from them.  The lessons they teach tell you a lot about the teacher culture.

There are five stories, the first comprising more than half of the book:

The Heart of the Serpent, by Ivan Yefremov

Seven hundred years in the future, humanity’s first faster-than-light ship embarks on a mission to explore Cor Serpentis, a giant orange star 74 light years from Earth.  The time dilation consequences of the ship’s hyperdrive mean that hundreds of years will pass back home before the crew returns.  Yet, the demographically balanced team of enlightened Communists are stoically resigned to doing their duty in service to their species’ destiny.

On the way to their destination, they chance upon an alien vessel.  As extraterrestrials had been theoretical until that point, this promises to be the most significant discovery in the history of space travel.  The crew discuss at length what they expect to find.  One camp believes that two different planets couldn’t possibly produce similar beings.  Another feels that the human form is the natural end-point of evolution, much as Communism is the inevitable destination for all societies.

I’ll let you guess which guess is right…

I do appreciate the overwhelming positivity of the encounter, in contrast to other stories (Yefremov specifically calls out Murray Leinster’s classic, First Contact).  And there is a stately beauty to the piece.  The spaceship and its mission are depicted with a spare elegance that feels futuristic.

Siema, by Anatoly Dnieprov

The most old-fashioned of the pieces is a bit of Pygmalion gone wrong.  An engineer constructs a brilliant robot whose computing power is such that she (it takes on the female gender) becomes a sentient being.  A rather obsessed creature with an unquenchable desire for knowledge untempered by any tinge of morality.  But if this electric Pinocchio can just get a conscience, all will be well.

It is a cute tale that will make you smile, but the lesson is heavy-handed and the plot is out of the 1940s.

The Trial of Tantalus, by Victor Saparin

By the 21st Century, a world led by Soviet science has eradicated every disease.  The few remaining pathogens are kept in a highly secured vault for study.  In Tantalus, one escapes back into the wild, causing a myriad of positive and negative effects that must be gauged to determine their net value.  The moral of this story is that all life has purpose, even the nasty bits.  And Communism will be the key to evaluating that purpose.

Despite the adventure-story trappings of Tantalus, I found this piece the least engaging.  Sort of a creaky Astounding tale from the early 1950s.

Stone from the Stars, by Valentina Zhuravleva

Here is the one woman-penned piece in the book.  I don’t know if Valya’s 20% contribution is representative of gender demographics in Soviet science fiction, but I’m glad the Reds didn’t neglect half of their “equal partners” in Communism.  It is worth noting, however, that even worlds dominated by egalitarian Communism, virtually none of the characters in these stories are women…

Stone is another first-contact tale.  This time, the envoy is a two-meter cylinder encased in a meteorite.  Once again, there is the debate over the potential form of the creature, but the revelation is not nearly as clear-cut as in The Heart of the Serpent.  An interesting, bittersweet piece.

Six Matches, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The last piece involves neutrino-induced psionics.  Yes, the premise is so much handwavium, but that’s not the point.  Rather, it is that its inventor put himself at great personal risk to advance science.  This foolhardy courage of Soviet science is lambasted with words, but praised in subtext.  Perhaps they’ll trot this story out when the first cosmonaut dies.

I did not rate the stories individually because they really hang together as a gestalt.  I can’t say that More Soviet Science Fiction is a great book, but it is an interesting one, and one I dispatched in short order.  And if you’re a fan of Isaac Asimov, also a product of the Soviet Union, you’ll appreciate his introduction.  Call it three stars – more if you’ve got a case (as I do) of xenophilia.

(P.S. Don’t miss the second Galactic Journey Tele-Conference, July 29th at 11 a.m.!  A chance to discuss Soviet and American science fiction…and maybe win a prize!)