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Beliaev, Alexander

Entry updated 28 July 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1884-?1942) Russian author whose surname has been variously transliterated; further spellings include Beliayev, Belyaev and Belyayev. His death-date is likewise insecure: he died during the German occupation of the city of Pushkin and, while his body was discovered in January 1942, it is possible that he died in late 1941. As one of the originators of the sf genre in Soviet literature, Beliaev's Wells- and Verne-influenced writings dominated the field between the wars, providing models for most other Soviet practitioners of the time. His first story of genre interest seems to have been either the fairly routine Poslednii Chelovek Iz Atlantidy ["The Last Man from Atlantis"] (May and August 1925 Vsemirnyj Sledopyt; 1927), which deals with the traditional theme of Atlantis; or Golova Professora Douelja (June-July 1925 Vsemirnyj Sledopyt nrs 3-4; 1926; exp rev 1937; trans Antonina W Bouis as Professor Dowell's Head 1980); there is some uncertainty about serialization venues. Golova Professora Douelja, telling of the preservation of the titular disembodied head as a living and thinking entity (see Brain in a Box), introduces an intimate focus of deep interest to Beliaev: it is both a prophetic tale about organ transplantation and a dramatic account of life without motion – the latter concern being conveyed with an intense affect perhaps due to the author's own paralysed status from 1917 to 1921, caused by pleurisy and then tuberculosis; his health remained precarious thereafter.

In Borba v efire (1927 Zhizn' i tekhnika sviazi ["Life and Communications Technology"] #1-#9 as by Radiopolis; in coll 1928; trans Albert Parry as The Struggle in Space: Red Dream: Soviet-American War 1965), he combines political prophecy (Invention-driven Future War scenarios, pitting Russia against a grotesquely decadent America) and Utopia (the Soviet state has withered away, leaving a hi-tech decentralized paradise for all), as well as tacking on a few moments in space; later novels, like Pryzhok V Nichto ["Jump into Nowhere"] (1933) and Zvezda KETZ ["The Star KETS"] (1940), simplify the portrait, and focus more on space, the latter novel (for instance) promulgating the ideas of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Later novels dealing with the same complex of science and pathos found in Golova Professora Douelja include "Chelovek-amfibja" (1928 Vokrug Sveta nrs 1-13; trans L Kolesnikov as The Amphibian 1959), in which the protagonist – a boy with transplanted shark's gills – is totally uncomfortable in the society of "normal people"; in Vlastelin Mira ["The Master of the World"] (1929) a morally wicked but ingenious biophysicist tries to control people through the use of Telepathy; and in Ariel' (1941) the same dramatic incompatibility afflicts a levitating boy (see Psi Powers), the victim of another Mad Scientist's enthusiasms.

Though his literary style and themes had standard pulp limitations, the personal note described above resounded through his otherwise orthodox representations of potential Supermen. Despite their ideological content and frequent clichés Beliaev's books remain popular, maintaining his status as the first Soviet sf "classic". [PN/VG/JC]

see also: Russia; Under the Sea.

Alexandr Romanovich Beliaev

born Smolensk, Russia: [4 March 1884] 16 March 1884 [new style]

died Pushkin, USSR: December 1941/January 1942 [6 January 1942 has been given]


Titles without publisher data have not been traced, and may not have been published in book form.


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