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(1891-1940) Soviet physician, playwright and author who served in World War One as a doctor, being wounded twice. His fame in the West has come only with the posthumous publication in translation of most of his fiction, including Belaya gvardiya (1925 Rossiya [chapters 1-13 only]; 1927-1929; trans Michael Glenny as The White Guard 1971) and Zapiski pokoynika (Teatrainy roman) ["A Dead Man's Memoir: A Theatrical Novel"] (written late 1930s; trans Michael Glenny as Black Snow 1967), neither of which are sf/fantasy. His last publication of any significance in his native land, Dyavoliada (coll 1925; trans Carl R Proffer as Diaboliad and Other Stories 1972; cut vt Diaboliad containing original coll only 1991; further cut trans Hugh Aplin 2010), is dominated by his most significant sf tale, the short novel "Rokovye iaitsa" (1925 Nedra #6; here trans as "The Fatal Eggs"), a Satirical Near Future tale describing the Invention of a Ray intended to fertilize amphibian eggs, but which goes wrong after the government interferes. This assault on the toxic relationship between science and power, with its indictment of irresponsible applications of science, explicitly takes off from H G Wells's The Food of the Gods (1904). The feverish intensity of this tale – told in a feuilleton style similar to that employed by Karel Čapek in sf written at almost exactly the same time – is a marker of the savagery of the loss inflicted upon its citizens by the Soviet government: nothing remotely similar to Bulgakov's sf would be published there for another sixty-five years. The 1972 translation cited above, Diaboliad and Other Stories, also includes Bulgakov's own translation of "The Crimson Island: A Novel by Comrade Jules Verne Translated from the French into the Aesopian" (1924 On the Eve Germany), a Jules Verne-like fable later recast as a play in 1927 with the same title; it appears in The Early Plays of Mikhail Bulgakov (coll trans Carl R Proffer and Ellendea Proffer 1972), along with "Adam and Eve" (written 1931), "Bliss" (written 1934) and "Ivan Vasilievich" (written 1935).
Not published in Russia for many decades after its composition, Sobachye Serdste (written 1925; trans Michael Glenny from the manuscript as Heart of a Dog 1968 UK and by Mirra Ginsburg 1968) is a second short sf novel, thematically and stylistically close to its immediate predecessor: a scientist – based on the historical Dr Serge Voronoff – implants human testicles into the body of a dog, who becomes man-like (see Intelligence) but who proves incapable of the fundamental transformation to civilized behaviour, which does not prevent him from becoming influential in the Soviet world order; eventually, the scientist is forced to change him back into a dog (or allegorical peasant) again. The tale reappeared in The Heart of a Dog and Other Stories (coll trans Kathleen Cook-Horujy and Avril Pyman 1990), along with material from Diaboliad and elsewhere. Master i Margarita (written 1928-1940 and completed by Bulgakov's wife after his death, 1940-1941; complete text trans Michael Glenny as The Master and Margarita 1967; cut text trans Mirra Ginsburg 1967) is a fantasy in which the Devil appears in modern Moscow, and Christ's crucifixion is re-enacted. It was filmed in 1972 and adapted as a serial on BBC radio in 1992; the novel encased within the framing narrative, itself of novel length, was made into a Polish film (English title Pilate and the Others) in 1971. Bulgakov was a powerful, often extremely funny, ultimately very serious writer whose use of sf and fantasy forms was tightly linked to the messages he laboured to produce about the state of the Soviet Union, where he became a pariah, though Stalin apparently prevented his murder. [JC]
see also: Russia; Theatre.
born Kiev, Russia: 15 May 1891
died Moscow: 10 March 1940
Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 16:15 pm on 4 December 2022.