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Literature / Monday Begins on Saturday

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He should really be more careful with those keys...

Monday Begins on Saturday (Russian: "Понедельник начинается в субботу") is a 1964 novel, one of the most beloved works by the Strugatsky Brothers. A mix of fantasy and science-fiction, it tells the stories of a Soviet research institute dedicated to studying magic and the supernatural, the dedicated scientists who work there, and the wide variety of monsters, ghosts, and other critters that they study and work with. Adapted into a two-part Christmas special back in the early 80s. It's a fun movie in its own right, but it has very little to do with the novel it's supposedly based on (which annoyed the Brothers quite a bit at the time).

Was followed by a much more cynical Tale of the Troika just three years later.


Tropes found in the novel:

  • Adam and/or Eve: The first pithecanthropus has two children named Add-Am and Eihoua. His own name was Ayyoukh, probably a play on Yahweh (normally written in Russian as Iyegova)
  • Almighty Janitor: Sabaoth Bhaalovich Odin, the only human in history to have ever solved the Omnipotence Formula, works in the Institute as the head of the tech and hardware department.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Institute building. Outside, two stories and ten windows per story, inside it is over a kilometer wide and has twelve stories for institute alone, and over hundred other stories.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: As he smokes, Korneev makes a miniature tornado that travels about the room, curving around the furniture.
  • Catchphrase: "You will desist" by Modest Matveevich. Privalov borrows it a few times.
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  • Clingy MacGuffin: A "non-changeable dime" that returns to its owner every time it's spent. Until it's confiscated by policemen as an instrument of petty fraud. Or not so petty: one policeman mentions that there were crooks who collected sums to buy a car (a big deal in the USSR) by repeatedly spending the magical coin and collecting spare change. This item is based on Russian Mythology and Tales, except in the fairy tales it was usually a silver ruble, not a small copper piece.
  • Cool Old Guy: Both Cristobal Junta and Fyodor Simeonovich Kivrin are department heads at NIIChaVo, who are well-respected by everyone at the institute and, in addition to being powerful wizards and capable administrators, often act as encouraging mentors to younger scientists. Both of them are also at least several centuries old: Junta was a member of The Spanish Inquisition, while Kivrin was active at least as far back as the first Romanovs' reign.
  • Dashing Hispanic: Cristobal Junta is an older variation of this trope. He was born in Spain centuries ago, and is nowadays mostly a level-headed Deadpan Snarker... unless someone (usually Fyodor Simeonovich) really ticks him off with disrespectful comments, in which case he challenges the offender to a duel. His duels are rumored to involve a lot of acrobatics and Flynning, but usually end with both parties enjoying a rare beverage from Junta's personal collection.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: As a Magical Gesture, no less. "Janus Poluektovich went into his office, eliminating negligently as he walked, with one universal flick of his eyebrow, my entire chamber of horrors."
  • For Happiness: The Institute is dedicated to the problems of human happiness and the meaning of human life.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The secret institute is called the Scientific Research Institute of Sorcery and Wizardry. In Russian, that abbreviates to NIIChaVo, which sounds suspiciously like the Russian word for "nothing".
    • One English translation gives the laboratory's name as "National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy".
    • The Scientific Research Institute of Kabbalistics and Witchcraft is also mentioned. It abbreviates to NIIKaVo (Sounds like "No one" or "Nobody").
  • Gratuitous French: Vybegallo tries to use French to seem intelligent, but constantly fails — in no small part because all his French phrases are taken out of War and Peace and he doesn't seem to understand what some of them actually mean. This contrasts with his usual overly-colloquial manner of speech, hinting at uneducated upbringing in Russian province.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Completely Satisfied Cadaver turns out to be the human-made Cosmic Horror. He is destroyed by Roman Oyra-Oyra just before he could collapse space and stop time.
  • I Want My Jetpack: Parodied with Privalov's travel into future narratively imagined possibilities.
  • Jerkass: Vybegallo doesn't care about traumatizing his employees, especially Stella, with his weird (to put it mildly) experiments, and is not above browbeating people with pseudo-scientific terminology to get what he wants.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Viktor Korneev has very little manners but will never actually do anything hurtful to anyone. For example, when he cannot legally borrow a device from a museum, he resorts to stealing it at nights—but does his best to return it in the morning before anyone gets in trouble for the theft.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo:
    • Mixed with Take That!: Vybegallo is modeled after Trofim Lysenko, the infamous Soviet politico and quack agriculturist/geneticist.
    • Janus Nevstruev was based on Alexander Mikhailov, then-director of Pulkovo Observatory, where Arkady Strugatsky used to work; Fyodor Kivrin, on Ivan Yefremov; and Roman Oyra-Oyra, on the Soviet mathematician Sergei Novikov.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The book ends with a postscript allegedly written by Privalov himself, ranting at the authors for committing all the factual errors they supposedly made.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Koschei's cell is one.
  • Magnus Means Mage: A minor character, Magnus Red'kin, is a bumbling enchanter and inventor of invisible pants.
  • Memetic Badass: Cristobal Junta has a lot of improbably cool rumors surrounding his persona In-Universe, such as that he had actually been the head of the Spanish Inquisition at one time, or that he has a stuffed dummy at his office made from the corpse of his fellow taxidermist rival (who was a Nazi, so it's okay). He is also Famed In-Story for his sharp wit, style, and efficiency.
  • Merlin Sickness: At the end of the third chapter, the young scientists figure out that the institute director Janos Nevstruev, specifically his U-Janus version, is a "contramote", i.e. lives backwards in time. It turns out that A-Janus is the original, who, at some point in his future, will have subjected himself to an experiment that made him jump 48 hours back into the past every midnight. This created the U-Janus, who remembers the future, having lived through it already, but not the past, which is his subjective future.
  • Muggles Do It Better: Battle magic is in severe decline ever since World War I. The last worker in the corresponding department managed to hold out until he heard of the H-bomb. No one has seen him ever since.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Sasha Privalov transfers to NIIChaVo at the end of the first chapter, having only learned of its existence half-way through said chapter. As such, he is very new to the weirdness of the institute and has trouble adjusting to its stranger aspects.
  • Nice Guy: Edik Amperyan's main character trait in the book is his excessive politeness — and Privalov even calls the authors out on turning Edik into a Flat Character in the appendix.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Modest Kamnoedov is the supply and maintenance manager and chief bursar of the institute, so it is his job to make sure the scientists don't waste too much money on crazy experiments. That said, he is a very tame example compared to the bureaucrats with whom Privalov and Co. butt heads in Tale of the Troika.
  • Our Demons Are Different: A pair of "Maxwell's macrodemons" named Enter and Exit stand guard over the door to the director's office during the off-hours. A Maxwell's demon is a thought experiment in theoretical physics, an entity that would break the second law of thermodynamics by letting fast particle cross a certain threshold while bumping back the slow ones. NIIChaVo seems to have re-purposed human-sized versions of this demon into bouncers.
  • Our Homunculi Are Different: Vybegallo's creates artificial humanoids, dubbed "cadavers" by everyone but him, to test the effects of consumerism on a human happiness. The first one is utterly incapable of satisfying its needs and quite naturally dies within minutes of being activated; the second is capable of satisfying only its bodily needs and suffers from Horror Hunger until it literally bursts into pieces from overeating; and the third one turns out to be a Physical God that grabs everything of value it can reach, then attempts to break reality, but is killed by Oyra-Oyra.
  • Physical God: The institute has a legit one on staff, albeit a deconstructed variation: Sabaoth Bhaalovich Odin (not a Meaningful Name at all) is the only human in history to have ever solved the Omnipotence Formula and achieved just that. However, one of the constraints applied by the formula is that by using it, the wizard may not harm any living being, and after Odin couldn't think of any such application, he has forsworn magic altogether and filed for transfer into the tech and hardware department. He is still a carrier of enormous magical power, however, and Privalov observes that clocks actually go faster in his presence.
  • Public-Domain Character: Merlin. Strangely, he's not the one with the Merlin Sickness. It's worth mentioning that Merlin's personality is based on Merlin from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, not on Arthurian Legends Merlin.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Director Nevstruev and Fyodor Simeonovich are particularly well-meaning and supportive of younger scientists' crazier endeavors among their superiors.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Cristobal Junta and Fyodor Simeonovich Kivrin. Kivrin is the Red Oni: a large, loud, and enthusiastic man always surrounded by the scent of fresh apples and good mood; Junta, meanwhile, is the Blue: Tall, Dark, and Snarky, with an aura of cool efficiency the scent of expensive cologne around him.
  • Reference Overdosed: Pretty much everything in the novel can be read as a comment on or a homage to something else... From a snarky sendup of Aristotle's Politics, of all things, to stealth-quotes from classic Russian novels to a pastiche of contemporaneous trashy SF&F now mostly forgotten and lyrics of popular songs and propaganda doggerel.
  • Repetitive Name: Roman Oira-Oira.
  • The Scream: Stella, when the Gastrally Unsatisfied Cadaver gives her a contemplative stare.
  • Self-Deprecation: The postscript tears into the authors about the supposed factual errors and Flat Characters.
  • Space Time Eater: Vybegallo's third homunculus, the universal consumer. As Oira-Oira puts it, "He will gather up all the material valuables he can lay his hands on, then he’ll fold space, wrap himself up in a cocoon, and stop time."
  • Speech Impediment: Kivrin has a slight stutter, which doesn't bother him at all.
  • Taxidermy Terror and Taxidermy Is Creepy: Junta's favourite study decoration, a stuffed SS Standartenführer, and Junta himself, an accomplished taxidermist. The Standartenführer was a good taxidermist, too, but Junta proved to be faster.
  • Those Two Guys: A. Pronitsatelniy and B. Pitomnik are Vybegallo's pet Tagalong Reporters who appear several times through the book but don't do much except writing down and publishing his pseudo-scientific lingo. A fan theory suggests the two of them to be Author Avatars (based on their initials).
  • Title Drop: Privalov mentions that the scientists (the real ones, not Vybegallo) are so enthusiastic that they almost always work on weekends and their motto is pretty much "Monday begins on Saturday".
  • Token Girl: Stella is pretty much the only notable female scientist in the book (although not the only female character, there is also the IzNaKurNozh groundskeeper Naina Kievna).
  • Trapped in TV Land: In the third part, Privalov travels to an imaginary future made by the collective imagination of Science Fiction writers. While he's not, strictly speaking, trapped there (he can leave at any moment), that part of the book seeks to parody tropes common to 1960s and earlier SF.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Sasha Privalov is a regular programmer who had no idea that magic even existed until coming to Solovets, but adjusts relatively quickly, and is able to cope with the weirdness well enough to be entrusted with night duty at the institute in part two of the book.
  • Workaholic: It's right there in the title. Most people working in the Institute find their happiness in "gaining perpetually new insights into the unknown and the meaning of life was to be found in the same process". So they come to work at twelve o’clock on New Year’s Eve.
  • World of Weirdness: In the novel's realm, fairy tales are true, and it is seen as nothing out of the ordinary.


Example of: