Aelita by Alexei Tolstoy , Raduga, 219pp, 1923, tr. Lucy Flaxman.
I found a 1958 USSR-printed edition of this early SF novel. By coincidence, I have also seen the 1924 Russian movie, which differs significantly from the book. The elderly Engineer Los builds a space rocket in his backstreet shed, with the intention of flying it to Mars, and is looking for a second man to accompany him. Signals have been received from Mars. The ex-soldier and adventurer Gusev shows up and is accepted. They take off and within hours are approaching Mars and manage to land in one piece. There follows a series of adventures with the Martians in which they learn something of the history of the Martians, who are descended both from the original inhabitants and from Atlanteans who fled Earth.
They are taken to the country house of a leading Martian, Tuscoob, partly to keep them isolated from the Martian population. Los becomes infatuated by Tuscoob’s daughter Aelita, while the restless Gusev flirts with a servant girl and escapes to the city, where he foments an uprising of the worker class.
Tuscoob meanwhile has a desperate plan to halt the degeneration of the Martians by destroying the principal city and forcing the Martians into the countryside. Gusev’s uprising is repressed with a considerable death toll, and the city is destroyed.
The science element in the novel is rather wide of the mark, especially the backyard rocket, but little was known about Mars when the book was written. Of more interest is the political aspect, as the action on Mars is an obvious reference to the Bolshevik revolution, then only a few years old.
The novel is written in an odd style, with short sentences of roughly equal length, but I have no idea whether this reflects the original Russian or is an artifact of translation. It is quite a good read and can be enjoyed as a story as well as for its historical interest. The book appears to be currently out of print in English editions.
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