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Literature / The Doomed City

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

Andrei Voronin, young astronomer from 1951 Leningrad, volunteered to participate in a sociological Experiment run by mysterious entities. The City, where Experiment takes place, is filled with volunteers from various places and times, yet all can effortlessly communicate with each other. All of them also can confess to mysterious Mentors, but said Mentors never tell what is the meaning of the Experiment. Andrei, being a staunch Stalinist, came to conclusion, that they should build communism in the City, but how little he knows...


Tropes found in the novel:

  • Colonel Badass: Col. St.James, even when gravely ill, commands uncontested authority, remains unfazed by strange happenings and maintains expedition' coherency. Things swiftly went sideways, when he dies.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: After Heiger's coup Andrei became a high-ranking government official and no longer cares about Experiment' cause or "happines for all mankind".
  • Dismotivation: Chinese caretaker Wang is extremely determined to remain at the lowest possible position of hierarchy, even if it would mean breaking the law. It's implied that he was high-ranking official in China, and it didn't end well for him.
    Wang Li-hung: The best place of all to be in is one from which you can’t fall. You can’t understand that, Andrei. I don’t know why. But it’s bound to happen. Or you have to make such a great effort to hold on that it’s better to fall immediately. I know, I’ve been through all that.
  • Driven to Suicide: Donald Cooper.
    • And later, Danny Lee.
  • Easily Forgiven: Although more like Easily Forgotten: in just a few years Andrei can't recognize the man who murdered his friend Kensi right before his eyes.
    • Direct example - Katzman seems to be not holding any grudge against Andrei and Heiger, people who arrested and tortured him.
  • 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.
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  • Gainax Ending: In the end, after getting shot by what appears to be his mirror image, 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. Word Of God said, that he actually was brought back to his abduction point, but toll of experience turned him from Wide-Eyed Idealist to the person without any meaningful idea to fill his life with. We are told, via Andrei's Mentor, that he has passed the "first circle" but that "there are many of them ahead", and that could refers to his future quest to regain this meaning.
  • 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 Heiger's coup seems to run this way.
  • Karma Houdini: Raymond Cvirik, who muredered Kensi during the coup, in later chapter revealed to rose in party ranks and Andrei can't recall who exactly that Cvirik is.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Kensi Ubukata firmly stays on "be Lawful" side, and this is contributes to his murder during the coup.
    Kensi Ubukata: My view of the enforcement of the law is somewhat different. In any case, you don’t decide such matters, the court does
  • 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. Later they turned out to be more of Well-Intentioned Extremist flavour.
  • New Job as the Plot Demands: Literally. According to "right to diversified labor", all the City denizens should periodically change their jobs. And new jobs are assigned by random.
  • Ontological Mystery
  • Rage Against the Mentor: Quite literally. All the City inhabitants have assigned Mentors - mysterious persons, connected with Experimentators and supposedly providing counseling and guidance. After expedition collapse, Andrei snaps and angrily tells to Mentor, that he isn't offerng any help but simply convincing that things are okay and going to be even better, no matter what happens.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Expedition members, hand-picked by Andrei, quickly deteriorate into this.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Much to characters' surprise, Heiger ends up establishing not a Nazi dictatorship, but competent and adequate, if authoritarian, government.
    • Also, Colonel St.James. After his death, expedtion completely disintegrates in two days.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: When working as the investigator, Andrei still believes that he working for a just cause, but now he is ready to detain and interrogate people with little to no evidence against them or to break the law himself.
  • The Unreveal: Contents of Katzman's file is never revealed. Word Of God, however, declares, that he uncovered evidence that after death in the City, people instantly travels back to the point of abduction
    • On a larger scale, true neture of the Experiment, Experimentators and Mentors nvere revealed too, even by Word Of God.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never learn the fates of anyone left in the City - it can be assumed that they are perfectly fine and life in the City goes on as it did before, but we don't know for certain. While Andrei thinks about both his wife Selma (and his assistant/secretary Amalia, for that matter) and his friend/boss/commander-in-chief Heiger while the expedition is still going comparatively well, neither of the two main characters ever brings up any of the others during the entire last act. True, they do have bigger problems, such as trivial survival, after the collapse of the entire expedition and the death or disappearance of all other members, along with dealing with the extremely weird stuff close to the "origin of the world", but even so, it is jarring that Andrei not even once, not even in a throw-away half-sentence, thinks of his wife, at least.