Literature / The Doomed City

The Doomed City (Russian: "Град обреченный") is one of the last novels written by the Strugatsky Brothers.

Set in a city where mysterious Mentors run a sociological Experiment. The City is filled with volunteers from various places and times, yet all can effortlessly communicate with each other. Apparently, the experiment runs out of control, the City is shaken by a social unrest and an egalitarian system of job assignments is replaced by a dictatorship. The leader of the new regime sends the main character to explore the bordering desert that limits their expansion. He is told to search for another city that the leader sees as a threat, despite having no evidence it exists. The expedition proves difficult in the extreme. One by one, the members turn back or perish. Only the hero Andrei and his friend remain. They pass the Crystal Palace, a briefly mentioned place that contains everything man desires, but still proceed, pondering their strange world and the meaning of human existence.

Tropes found in the novel:

  • Driven to Suicide: Donald Cooper.
    • And later, Danny Lee.
  • Eldritch Location: Arguably the entire City and by extension the entire area note  where the Experiment takes place. The farmlands in the South and the inhabited sections of the City are more or less normal: although dangerous and strange animals seem to exist in the swamps around the farmlands ("furry crocodiles" as big as bulls are mentioned and farmer characters seem to be always armed, with one of them stating that survival is otherwise impossible in the south), there is nothing truly supernatural there, while in the City, strange happenings occur and weird places do exist (such as the Red Building), but are rather low-key. However, in the abandoned sections of the City in the North, things get weirder and weirder, and not in a good way. The more the expedition (by then largely consisting of the two main protagonists) moves northward, approaching the zero point (the "origin of the world"), the worse things get.
  • Everything's Worse with Baboons
  • Gainax Ending: In the end, after getting shot, Andrei is back in our world's actual reality in Leningrad, in his mother's apartment, shortly before dinner - and apparently he wasn't gone at all, to her. That means that it was either a dream or hallucination during the span of a few minutes, OR an instantaneous trip to a parallel universe OR an example of time travel, having been sent back by the Advisors after the experiment, OR he's still in the experiment and "actual reality" is only a hallucination, OR... seriously, what is going on? We are only told, via Andrei's Mentor, that he has passed the "first circle" but that "there are many of them ahead".
  • Genius Loci: The Red Building seems to possess something of the sort, although it's not really explained just what it actually is. Andrei, who is a communist, plays chess (using humans as pieces) with someone who is heavily implied to be Stalin.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Much of the City policy before Geiger's coup seems to run this way.
  • Mind Screw: Oh boy. While most of the rest of the Strugatsky's body of work is rather hard social science fiction, this is a heavily psychological surrealist mystery, full of symbolism, things that are heavily implied, but NEVER explained and, once you get to the last two acts (the expedition to the North and its aftermath), some extremely weird stuff. Not to mention the Gainax Ending (see above).
  • My God, What Have I Done?
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Party of Radical Revival.
    • Not quite. The leader is indeed a former Nazi officer, but he is sane, and the regime is milder than the Third Reich.
      • If you consider extermination of mentally ill "milder" than extermination of jews.
  • Ontological Mystery