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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Definitely Maybe

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

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To purchase Definitely Maybe

Title: Definitely Maybe
Author: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Genre: Novel
Written: 1977 (Eng. 1978)
Length: 149 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Definitely Maybe - US
Definitely Maybe - UK
Definitely Maybe - Canada
Definitely Maybe - India
Un milliard d'années avant la fin du monde - France
in Gesammelte Werke 2 - Deutschland
  • A Manuscript Discovered Under Strange Circumstances
  • Russian title: За миллиард лет до конца света
  • Translated and with a Note by Antonina W. Bouis
  • With an Afterwod by Boris Strugatsky

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Our Assessment:

B : neat little intellectual thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The main figure in Definitely Maybe is Dmitri Alekseevich Malianov. Malianov is a scientist, and he's onto something; he hasn't quite worked it all out, but he's had a conceptual break-through -- a vision of 'Malianov cavities' or M cavities -- and now just has to figure out the final details. This, however, proves harder than expected: although he has the Leningrad apartment almost all to himself -- his wife and son are far away; it's just (for a while) him and the cat ... -- distractions make it difficult for him just to get ahead with his work.
       The distractions come in a variety of forms, many of them pleasant: there's a delivery of fine food and liquor, and then his wife's very attractive friend from school, Lidochka, shows up on his doorstep. There are also less welcome distractions, such as some of the phone calls he gets -- wrong numbers. And then there's his neighbor -- friendly enough, if a bit inquisitive -- whose apparent suicide brings someone (who looks like he's a Tonton Macoute) from the Criminal Investigation Department to interrogate him.
       As Malianov eventually comes to complain:

Damn, I could be doing so much work right now ! But I can't think ! Every rustle in my own apartment makes me jump like a psycho ...
       Something strange is going on, and Malianov learns he isn't the first one who has found himself thwarted just when he's on the verge of a tremendous scientific breakthrough. There's his friend, the biologist Weingarten, who suddenly found himself with Nobel Prize-worthy results, as well as Zakhar Gubar, working: "on some gigantic, very important project, something to do with energetics". Both come to Malianov and recount how they were maneuvered off-course -- not in the same way as Malianov, but in both cases quite outlandishly.
       What it amounts to is that there appear to be forces that ensure that mankind is prevented from making certain scientific-technological advances -- possibly because of their destructive potential. I.e. mankind is being saved from itself, as it were. The identity of these conspiring forces isn't entirely clear. An alien supercivilization ? A 'Union of Nine', a group of: "secretive wise men" who have watched over progress since ancient times ?
       Regardless, it seems clear that some greater force can readily interfere in the lives of scientists, prodding them away from continuing their research by distracting and threatening them. Malianov and the others face the difficult choice of how to deal with these near-invisible powers-that-be -- whose very existence, absurd as the whole idea is, they, as scientists, must doubt (even as they feel what they take to be its effects up close and personal). Do they risk continuing their work, or do they play it safe ?.
       Malianov finds:
I was realizing that just yesterday I was a man, a member of society. I had my own concerns and worries, yes, but as long as I obeyed the laws created by the system -- and that had become a habit -- I was protected from all imaginable dangers by the police, the army, the unions, public opinion, and my friends and family. Now, something in the world around me had gone haywire. Suddenly I became a catfish holed up in a crack, surrounded by monstrous vague shadows that didn't even need huge looming jaws
       When the rules -- be they social or scientific -- no longer apply, it gets complicated. Very complicated.
       Known as science fiction authors, the speculative parts of the Strugatsky brothers' fiction tends towards the philosophical . This isn't a futuristic novel, or one set in an alien world. Definitely Maybe is entirely earth- and present-bound, with much of the action -- and heavy drinking -- hardly out of the ordinary for any fictional depiction of 1970s Soviet life. Yet an air of mystery hangs over the entire story -- beginning with the presentation of the narrative itself: subtitled: A Manuscript Discovered Under Strange Circumstances, it is presented as a series of excerpts. The story is a continuous one -- but parts are also missing, as the ellipses at the start of each new excerpt (and the end of several of them, too) reminds readers. The narrative also shifts from the third person to the first person, Malianov telling the final bits of his story himself.
       Among the entities that can wield power over individuals in ways similar to much that happens in Definitely Maybe is, of course, the state; given the locale and time in which the novel is set that is even harder to overlook. But Definitely Maybe isn't primarily a critique of the Soviet system; the Strugatsky brothers' concerns and interests go far beyond the simple(r) social and political, into the realm of the metaphysical and the philosophical
       Like the best speculative fiction, Definitely Maybe doesn't show its age: the fundamental questions it addresses are timeless -- and effectively and entertainingly framed by the Strugatsky brothers. It remains an intriguing, unsettling work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 March 2014

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Definitely Maybe: Reviews: Other books by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Authors:

       Arkady Strugatsky (Аркадий Натанович Стругацкий, 1925-1991) and Boris Strugatsky (Борис Натанович Стругацкий, 1931-2012) were leading Soviet science fiction authors.

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© 2014-2018 the complete review

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