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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.

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.

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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.
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  • Everything's Worse with Baboons
  • 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. 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.
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  • 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.
  • Ontological Mystery
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: While most supporting character arcs are tied up note , we never learn what happens to Davydov/"Uncle Yuri", a semi-major character in the first three parts, after the revolution - he is never brought up again. While his friend Stanislaw, another farmer, who is travelling along with Davydov throughout the entire third act, is very briefly shown to have come to the City for some reason after the revolution note , the last time Davydov shows up in the novel is at the end of the third act, after stopping at a mass demonstration led by Geiger, at which point Andrei, travelling with him and Stanislaw, slips away. Afterwards, not a single word. Keep in mind that this was a character whom Andrei positively admired in the first act and who later seems to have become a friend of his, and arguably saved Andrei's hide in the central event of Act Three.
    • Also, after the expedition departs, 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 Geiger 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.


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