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Literature / Andromeda Nebula

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Andromeda Nebula (Russian: Туманность Андромеды), also known by its English title Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale is a grand, sweeping, Utopian epic by Soviet paleonotologist and Sci-Fi author Ivan Yefremov. First published in 1955 in magazine form, and later in hardcover edition in 1957, it's widely considered a first modern speculative fiction work in the Soviet literature, and is notable for breaking the prevailing (and governmentally promoted) "near aim" trend in the Soviet science fiction, with its atomic steamrollers and automatic threshers as a central point of the story.


Efremov moved the focus on to the society itself, and while not entirely successful (his writing is perceived by many as dry and scholastic, and his characters often seems to be phylosophical ideals rather than people), the novel became an important stepping stone for both the social SF, and for the scale and aim of the SF as a whole. He also introduced several crucial concepts of his social theory he worked on most of his life and which later brought him a fair share of problems, but this time, the ideological tone of the novel wasn't yet dissonant enough with the official line.

The Earth society shown in Nebula is a classless, moneyless, post-scarcity Communist Utopia in the original, theoretical-Communism sense: there's no oppression, No Poverty, no exploited classes (well, actually no classes at all), everyone gets most of their desires fulfilled at no cost, but everyone is considerate enough to not wish for something really outrageous. Politically it is an anarchist technocracy not unlike The Culture, albeit without the near-omniscience of the Minds. Computers remained massive, scarce machines used solely for calculations as aids and tools to the various governing committees and academies - instead, the society's advances are the result of discovering and maximizing each individual human's potential to the fullest and establishing a planet-wide society which progresses towards common goals. Humanity in the novel is depicted as nearly universally energetic, eager, athletic, educated and always seeking new challenges.


Absent Aliens are averted — there are a lot of various sapient aliens around, and most of them in the vicinity has already formed the Great Ring (or Great Circle), a kind of bulletin-board-cum-United-Nations organization which shares useful information and discusses important cooperation matters. Which is not a small feat, given that at this point of time the Faster-Than-Light Travel and Subspace Ansible aren't yet invented, and Earth, despite being in communication with the Great Ring for several centuries, has yet to receive an alien starship.

The novel features a complex interwoven plot that centers on a several key characters and storylines: starship captain Erg Noor, returning from his last expedition with many important discoveries, the ex-Outer Stations directornote  Dar Veter, who's Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life, his eventual replacement Mven Mass, a very passionate man whose biggest hatred is a vastness of Space, a prominent historian Veda Kong, who is the tip of the Love Triangle between Noor and Veter, a supremely talented physicist Ren Boz, etc, etc, etc.


These characters and their storylines interconnect and influence each other through the story, allowing the author to paint a broad and colorful picture of a pretty appealing society. It's not without its problems, though, and they do get to be discussed there, but the main conflict of the novel still boils down not to malice, egotism or incompetence, but, as it's often said, to the "conflict of the good with the better": all characters have the benefit of humanity in mind, but they diverge on specifics. The Earth's expansion drive, personified by Erg Noor, is not only checked by the needs of the Earth itself (whose frontheads are Dar Veter and Veda Kong), but also runs headfirst into the very scale of the space: Efremov, being a scientist, consciously averted Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale.

In the end the novel, drawing much of its inspiration from foreign science fiction not yet widely known in the Soviet Union (and in some cases deconstructing its predictions), just kind of opened the flood gates for Epic Soviet Science Fiction. Stuck for decades in their ghetto, the authors and readers alike suddenly realized that the genre is much bigger than they used to think, and jumped on the bandwagon enthusiastically, paving the way for the Golden Age of the genre.

Tropes the novel provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Darr Veter is not a Marty Stu only because expectations of what a man must be like are so high, he's not that much above the regular guy. Still, he's incredibly strong, hardy, savvy, intelligent, cultured, handsome, romantic, dependable and responsible. Oh, and one of the most respected and influential people on Earth.
  • Action Girl: Nisa Greet on the planet of the Iron Star. Various Earth girls are pretty active too, but given its idyllic state have little chance to show off.
  • Absent Aliens: Averted. There are loads and loads of them. The only problem is that lack of Faster-Than-Light Travel makes it a pain in the ass to communicate with them.
  • After the End: Several subtle details hint on the current idyllic state of the Earth being the result of the enormous effort to rebuild and revive the planet after the disastrous and almost fatal war or series of wars. There are mentions of civilizations that didn't make it.
    • The novel starts with an expedition to a non-starfaring Great Ring planet Zirda that ceased communicating several decades ago. Earth had to check on it, being its closest Ring neighbour. Circumstantial evidence — lifeless cities, weird giant flowers covering everything, high radiation levels, information about what technologies were popular on Zirda — suggested everybody died of radioactive pollution. The expedition found no survivors.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Captain's log from Sail starship.
  • Author Tract: One of the most frequent criticisms of the novel is that many characters exist solely to represent a viewpoint; as a result, some may find the society they live in frighteningly sterile. Whether or not the effect is intentional is up to debate.
  • Cool Starship: Tantra in the first part, Swan in the epilogue. Sail and Algorab fail to qualify by being lost, even if the former is a Tantra's sistership and gets finally found. Also the starship from Andromeda galaxy, seeing as it managed to make an intergalactic journey and crash-land without getting wrecked.
  • Death World: The Iron Star planet.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The lifeforms on the Iron Star planet are pitch black, tentacled aberrations capable of flight, changing their body shape and storing electricity in their bodies to deliver devastating nerve attacks. They also can sense humans through their spacesuits. Luckily, they are Weakened by the Light.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Doesn't yet exist, all Great Circle's starships (including Earth's) are Slower-than-Light. Its neccessity is a one of the central themes in the novel. It gets invented by the time of Hour of the Bull which takes place centuries in the future.
  • For Science!: Ren Boz's motivation for the experiment.
  • Generation Ship: The Planet of Green Sun is far enough that while the Swan's crew can live to reach it with some luck, they most definitely cannot live to return. Thus, they must plan accordingly so that their kids could bring the word back.
  • Green Aesop: Justifiably inverted. Yes, humans cheerfully redrew the Earth's maps and changed its climatic zones with preciously small regard to the fate of its biosphere, but that was because there largely wasn't any biosphere to protect, humans having already destroyed it in their wars, with the Himalayas being basically the only place left relatively untouched. Earth in the novels is a post-apocalyptic world, rebuilt at a great effort and enormous expense, and its biosphere is virtually completely artificial.
    • Played straight with the planet Zirda, killed by accumulating nuclear waste, see After the End above.
  • Human Aliens: Epsilon Tucanae people, who are inexplicably human enough to be squarely out of Uncanny Valley. Mven Mass falling for one of them in their Great Circle transmissionnote  forms his motivation to support Ren Boz's experiment.
    • Unfortunately, as a sequel points out, the marriages between Eartlings and Tucanians (yes, They Do) are childless. Two centuries after the contact geneticists promise to solve it in a few more decades.
    • Averted with all other major races. They are mostly humanoid (some enough to qualify as Rubber-Forehead Aliens), but clearly distinguishable from Earth humans.
    • Then, the sequel has a supposed Lost Colony Tormance, though locals insist they came not from Earth, but from someplace else.note 
  • It's Personal: Mven Mass' motivation for the experiment.
  • Jerkass: Pour Hyss, the Tantra's egotistical astronomer, and Beth Lon, the sociopathic mathematical genius, though the latter gets redeemed somewhat.
  • Love Triangle: Two: one, between Erg Noor, Veda Kong and Dar Veter, is closer to Type 7, although Noor and Veter are friends and both wish for their beloved to be happy. The second, between Kong, Noor and Nisa Greet, is Type 11, with Nisa seeing much older and more experienced Veda as her Cool Big Sis.
  • Mad Scientist: Beth Lon, who's, as explicitly said by the author, got his enormous intelligence at the expense of the social skills.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: The few characters introduced as random people Darr Veter runs into on an archaeological dig go on to make important decision and everyone listens to their opinion. Same for crew of Tantra, whose input in a worldwide discussion is treated as so important, as if no experts on the matter were involved.
  • Ms Exposition: Veda Kong, whose lecture about Earth history for the Great Ring is a one big infodump.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: A strong 5. It was firmly grounded in scientific knowledge of the time (yes, even FTL travel) and despite a few Science Marches On and Technology Marches On moments, it has mostly held up pretty well.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Chara Nandi
  • Mundane Dogmatic: A whole half a century before the rules were formulated.
  • No Poverty: Although conscious self-limiting do exist. Ren Boz and Mven Mass conduct their experiment basically on the energy allowances of everyone interested in it being done, and the whole planet limits their energy consumption to speed up the fuel production for the Swan in the end.
  • Older Than They Look: Most of the characters, as the life expectancy on Earth is generally somewhat above two centuries. In fact it is about three centuries, but most people work so hard they rarely live past two hundred.
  • Precursors: In a way: an alien space ship on the planet of the Iron Star is ancient beyond belief, having arrived from Andromeda Galaxy.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Played for An Aesop. One chapter describes how archaeologists have discovered an ancient vault serving as a time capsule of sorts for a pre-communist civilization. It contains what said civilization considered to be the pinnacle of achievement: luxurious cars, weapons and other objects of vanity. The archaeologists are baffled because these hold no value to them whatsoever as opposed to artifacts of art and knowledge. They hope to find these in the innermost section of the vault beyond a massive blast door that they fail to breach, but trigger a trap that causes the vault to collapse. It's strongly implied that it was in fact housing nuclear weapons.
  • Rite of Passage: The Twelve Deeds of Heracles, a number of difficult and meaningful deeds for the good of humanity expected of every young man and woman upon finishing education.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Mven Mass and Ren Boz's experiment. It was successful (at least partially), but it blew up the experimental apparatus, destroyed the transmitting satellite, killed its crew of four, and almost fatally injured Ren Boz himself. It may also have caused similar destruction on the planet they were trying to reach.
  • Tin-Can Robot: Used by the crew of the Tantra to breach the hull of the alien ship. It's clumsy, massive and needs to be teleoperated.
  • Utopia: The society itself.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: The average human in this story is the pinnacle of physical and mental ability and lives twice as long as those from pre-Brotherhood era. This is solely due to improved upbringing, nutrition and medicine, non-invasive eugenics as well as reduced stress; the novel doesn't consciously enforce No Transhumanism Allowed, but rather was written before the notion became mainstream.
  • Zeerust: Some points of the novel stand incredibly well up to this day. Others have become hopelessly outdated, such as the computer and networking technology being based around bulky Raygun Gothic analog devices and having the functionality of just about early 21st century era such as semi-autonomous pilot software or video communication. Despite his scientific background,note  the author also didn't account for increasingly sophisticated astronomical techniques which allow humans to map their surroundings within a considerable range in the galaxy without even leaving Earth, thus avoiding the need for manned expeditions to trek blindly through "uncharted space" mere couple of light years away. Ironically enough, the main social prognosis of the novel - that a centralized, collaborative planned economy is necessary to remedy the wrongdoings of past eras - still stands, as mankind is increasingly aware of the inability of free markets to cope with planet-wide initiatives.


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