Welcome to The Eastern Bloc. This is the first post in what is hoped to be many, exploring the world of science fiction in the really existing socialist nations (past and present). Each month we will publish a piece exploring some production, film, novel, or other aspect of science fiction from the socialist world.
To keep our theme of firsts, today we will be reviewing the short story “The Piano-Tuner” (Настройщик Роялей) by Victor Kolupaev – the first short story I read in the Russian language.
Victor Dmitrievich Kolupaev (Виктор Дмитриевич Колупаев), born in Nezametny, Yakutia in the Russian Far East in 1936, is an often overlooked Soviet science fiction writer. Studying radiotechnics at Tomsk Polytechnic University before debuting with his first science fiction story in 1969, Kolupaev would go on to win the Aelita Prize for his work in 1988. The Aelita Prize being the premier prize for Science Fiction or Fantasy writing in the Soviet Union – more on the prize itself and its namesake in a later post.
The story itself, The Piano-Tuner is a short and simple one. It follows an elderly man making his way through an apartment bloc re-tuning the instruments of the various residents. There is of course, something more to this simple piano-tuner than meets the eye. Observing the domestic affairs of each apartment, he deduces the real needs and desires of each of the families, and it transpires that the piano-tuner isn’t merely repairing their pianos. Whether it’s a boisterous family or a mother striving to outdo her beleaguered neighbours, the piano-tuner knows his true craft.
A charming read, I would recommend The Piano-Tuner for anyone looking to delve into Kolupaev’s works or into Soviet sci-fi generally, but who doesn’t have the time (or the patience) to tackle a longer work.
Until next time – The Eastern Bloc