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Prose

IVAN EFREMOV: MY FAVORITE RUSSIAN AUTHOR

by Randolph Porter; Houston, Texas

     Ivan Antonovich Efremov (1907-1972) was a giant of a man physically, intellectually, and morally. A doctor of biological sciences, a paleontologist, and a geologist - he both led and directly participated in many expeditions of the USSR Academy of Science in the Far North, the Trans-Caucusus, the Urals, and eastern Sibeia. Toward the end of his life in 1944, A. N. Tolstoy invited the 37 year old Efremov to visit him in his Kremlin hospital bed. A. N. Tolstoy asked, "How have you succeeded in working out such an elegant aand cold style?''
     The 'beginning' author had already published fifty scientific works! Moreover, he was accustomed to making precise observations in his journals. But what made Efremov innovative was his ability to write about highly unusual (almost mystical) events with the strictest scientific logic. As the years passed, he combined this ability with a sweeping panorama of ancient human history, the human present, and a possible human future. In a way, he envolved into a 'science fiction' writer, but (like Isaac Asimov in the U.S.) he was not swallowed up by science fiction.
     Efremov's «Stories about Unusual» are vitually devoid of Communist ideology (at a time when inclusion of such ideology was very strongly encouraged). A man of his stature in the scientific world could hardly avoid being a member of the CPSU, yet he knew how to keep his stories both acceptable to the authorities and relatively 'untainted' by ideology.
     Much was made (in the USSR and abroad) of the supposedly Communist Utopia in «Andromeda Nebula» («Tumannost' Andromedy»), yet Efremov never calls it that himself. He merely points out the leading role of the 'ancient' socialist world in helping to usher in a glorious future of reason, justice, and beauty. (Whose utopia is not socialistic?) Also, at one point in the story, future paleontologists dig up some vaults in North America filled with what the 'ancient' Americans considered so precious - gold, machines, and weapons. (It seems like a reasonably valid criticism. We Americans need to rethink our values and priorities.)
     For anyone who actually reads «Andromeda Nebula», «Cosmic Ships», or «Heart of the Snake», it is obvious that Communism vs Capitalism was just a petty ancient quarrel that was settled long ago in the human past. What is interesting to characters in the stories is contact with other races of intelligent beings in the cosmos. Perhaps no concept of Efremov's is more awe-inspiring than The Great Ring. This is the network of civilizations that communicate with each other across vast distance in the Milky Way Galaxy using powerful radio beacons to send messages that often arrive centuries agter they are sent, centuries after the iriginal speakers are dead.
     The first such message to Earth was sent by the advanced civilization in 61 Cygni (decoded, of course):

«Greetings to you, brothers, entering into our family!
Separated by space and by time, we have been united by
reason in a ring of great power!»

     There is something quintessentialy Efremov-like in that message, for he was truly a Man of Reason. He wanted all humans regardless of nationality, gender, or race) to live in peace and joy. Then he wanted humans to have amicable relations with extraterrestrials, too!
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