This book interrogates the relations between nostalgias of today and past utopias in the context of the space age of the 20th century and its cinematic representations in the USSR and in post-Soviet Russia. Once an enthusiastic projection, then a promising and uncanny present, and eventually an assemblage of nostalgic signifiers, in the history of world cinema, this space age has been linked primarily to the genre of science fiction. Here, aspects of the space age such as humanity’s imminent expansion to space, interplanetary travel, contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, and intergalactic governance and economy were both celebrated and critically interrogated as cosmopolitan ideals and nation-branding strategies. This book presents the contemporary relevance of this genre as heritage and legacy, archive and canon, and a nest of forgotten ideals and warnings, as well as nostalgic anchoring points. The author analyzes over 30 Soviet science fiction films, foregrounding their structures of utopia and their evolution over time, in order to trace both their transnational positionalities, transmedial resonance, and impact on post-Soviet Russian films about the space age. Concepts, crucial to the understanding of space futures of the past, such as utopianism, otherness, liminality, and no(w)stalgia are activated to draw out the fictional tenants of the memory of the Soviet space age, and to establish the limits and potentialities of Soviet (exra)terraformative ambitions.
Natalija Majsova is assistant professor at the University of Ljubljana.
Introduction: “To Begin With, There Must Be a Will to Remember.”
Chapter 1: Soviet Space and the Battlegrounds of 20th Century Science Fiction Cinema
Chapter 2: Aelita’s Mark and the Many Faces of Utopia
Сhapter 3: The Space Futures of Socialist Realism
Chapter 4: The Space Age and Its Others: Soviet SF between Gagarin and Gorbachev
Chapter 5: Little Soldiers, Perfect Aliens, and Spoilt Brats: Soviet and Post-Soviet Space Kids as Liminal Agents
Chapter 6: An Explosive Expansion: Soviet SF in the 1980s and Its Legacy
Chapter 7: The Province Called Earth: The Trope of Outer Space in Post-Soviet Russian Cinema
Chapter 8: Reinterpretations of the Soviet History of Spaceflight in Contemporary Russian Blockbusters
Conclusion: “If It Got Recorded, It Had To Be True.” Replay, Rewatch, Remember?
For Soviet culture, space flight used to be a dream that turned reality, first on screen and later in the deed. The link between science and cinema became a testing ground for future achievements in the cosmos. Natalija Majsova's Soviet Science Fiction Cinema and the Space Age: Memorable Futures is an engagingly written study of sci-fi films about space, Soviet and post-Soviet, which studies the films through a kaleidoscope of approaches, from the cosmos as utopian space, space exploration, liminality of outer space and Othering, as well as memory. Majsova offers a refreshing break from traditional readings of science-fiction film and representation of space as she subordinates patriotic discourse to a more global approach. This book makes a great addition to studies of science-fiction film and cosmic space in Russia.
If you ever wondered what Russian sci-fi cinema was like, and how it related to the Space Age, you need to look no further than this pioneering book. Majsova navigates the reader through the almost unknown and often unsafe terrain with the confidence of Stalker in Andrei Tarkovsky’s eponymous masterpiece.
The future is no longer what it quite used to be, Paul Valéry remarked in 1938. In this admirable study, Natalija Majsova offers an extensive and profound close reading of three dozen Soviet space films, ranging from science fiction blockbusters Aelita (1924) and Soliaris (1972) to less widely known cult films such as Kin-Dza-Dza! (1986) and present-day reinterpretations of the heroic era of Russian spaceflight. Elegantly interweaving theoretical insights from science-fiction studies, literary criticism, and astroculture with a sharp eye for cinematic, compositional, and historical detail, this book will make readers want to become viewers, primed to rediscover a fascinating corpus of Soviet and post-Soviet space utopias. This study is an indispensable guidebook to those fantastic worlds once far, far away, yet seemingly so close again.
Natalija Majsova’s book is an impressive piece of scholarship, exemplary in the breadth of material covered in the course of examining the origins and evolution of Soviet and post-Soviet space science fiction cinema. By placing the films within a variety of historical, cultural, and political contexts, Majsova’s provocative and intriguing analyses offer a valuable contribution not only to the discussions of the genre, but also to the larger discourses on technological progress, space exploration, utopianism, cultural memory, and nostalgia.
For those of us who have watched Soviet and Russian space-age, science-fiction movies over the years, reading this book takes us back. It’s like reading a movie review, if with something of a delay, well after we’ve seen the movie, recalling some of the scenes and dialogue, and learning a few new things too. In the best of senses, it’s also like meeting an old friend and reminiscing about a shared movie experience. This book encompasses several generations of movies, the kind we teach and the kind we need to know more about. Natalija Majsova has written a timely work…. Majsova’s comparative approach is valuable. She studies these movies aligned with popular Russian war epics and gangster movies, and more recent blockbusters. She matches the Soviet and Russian movies with the classics of American and European cinema and television, offering a global perspective. She studies their moralizing and formative influences, how they indoctrinated and entertained their audiences about presumed Soviet futures and pasts. This study will therefore be useful for university courses teaching film. It will also serve as a rich reference point for anyone teaching Soviet-Russian history and space-age history, a resource to better understand the part-real, part-mythical figures like Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, S. P. Korolev, and Yuri Gagarin.