Alexander Nikolayevich Gromov (Алексáндр Николáевич Грóмов) is a Russian science fiction writer, who began writing in 1986 and was first published in the early 1990s. His work is influenced by that of the Strugatsky brothers.
While most of his novels have a well-defined "scientific" background (Gromov is a former electronic engineer and a current amateur astronomer), Gromov's main interest is "social science fiction", as he explains it:
- I still have to tell a couple of words about my works — not about each one, but about all of them. Most of the things I wrote can be considered social science fiction (not in the sense of "capitalism-socialism" — this topic does not interest me). The recipe of it, worked out by H. G. Wells, has not changed till the present day and looks like this: you take a socium (limited number of people is better — easier to work) and do some ugly thing to it, and then you sit and look at the consequences...
None of Gromov's books have been translated into English yet.
The flight of the humankind will interrupt, but it will be not as an explosion, people are afraid of it of no use, Sergei. It will be as soft landing.
This novel (Myagkaya posadka, 1995) describes life of an ordinary man, Sergei, in the epoch of great crises, finally leading to the death of the Humankind. The action is set in Moscow, approximately at the end of 21st century.
While the world passes through a new Ice Age, it also suffers the turning of 70% of the population into morons (such ones are ironically called oakcephalics), but the last nail in the coffin of the Humankind is the race of adaptants — different subspecies of Homo Sapiens with less intelligence but much better survival ability. Some adaptants are dissoluted among humans, looking like oakcephalics and even not realizing their nature. While the most reliable way to reveal them is genetic testing, the weird non-human fury can be seen in their eyes when they are ready to kill. The way of social life of other adaptants is forming hierarchical flocks. Phenomenon of success of adaptans is being possible to survive at the expense of people. At some moment adaptants began open war against the Humankind, led by the cleverest species. The novel covers the events before the war and shortly after it began.
Sergei works in a university (his subject concerns electricity, due to the mass need of electrostations) and while he is primarily good, he sometimes acts harshly. He is able to fight, as each teacher obligatorily trains in the martial arts and he struggles for his relatives in the dying world. He is urged to show loyalty to the Security Service but tries to maintain loyalty to his inner principles.
The plot of first two chapters is relatively simple and covers Sergei's work at the university, his life at home, friends and colleagues. Driving home to his wife Darja involves fighting off a band of adaptants. Later in the novel, Darja begins to exhibit oakcephaly, and Sergei tries to carry out genetic testing secretly, not believing in her being an adaptant.
The last, third part, shows the war which flared up after the sharp rise of adaptants. Small half-autonomous groups of people try to counteract elusive flocks of adaptants. Now Sergei is a recently dismissed commander of group of his colleagues.
How did it end? A lazy and sarcastic laboratory assistant Sashka, an officer of Security Service, turned out to be a local leader of adaptants, willing to make Sergei a controlled leader of the remaining people. But when Sashka murdered the whole Headquarters for Mopping-up the city and was forcing injured Sergei for collaboration, trainer of Sergei uncle Kolya rushed in... In the instant duel uncle Kolya was killed, and Sashka was more tenacious of life:
- "Raw material", Sashka uttered with an effort...
Finishing off Sashka, Sergei automatically killed the last commander, and faced the people who came in:
- I still stretched and stretched them my stupid submachine gun. I could agree to all. I wouldn't resist if any of them would point on me the flat black circle, and while muttering a curse would bend his forefinger on a trigger.
- None of them did this. Suddenly I became to understand and got frightened. They haven't shoot me in the first moment. Now they already couldn't shoot me, even if they have wanted to. I was needed by them. I occupied the place, that belonged earlier to someone, and now — to me. And exhausted people, armed by submachine guns, looked at me so, as if waiting for a command from me. Why, it was so.
In the epilogue we see Sergei being the first president of the humankind, that is several thousand people who settled near a thermonuclear electrostation and seem to survive for long, despite the seeming death of the rest people. Is it a happy end?..
Year of the Lemming
- This section needs reworking.
This novel (God Lemminga, 1997) is a prequel to Soft Landing, set in 2039–2040 years. Appearing of a bunch of serious contagious diseases and unexpected technological failures caused establishment of four Services, harshly monitoring life of humankind in such aspects. Possible functioners (i.e., heads of the Services) were grown up in the special School and underwent a thorough selection. A slightest functioner's mistake could have serious effects and result in his death.
The main hero, functioner of Sanitary Service Michail Malakhov, got the case of sharp rise of suicides, which grew exponentially (like an epidemic). Thorough examinations and gathering statistics failed to clarify its causes. But one hypothesis was found: size of each population is limited to some critical value, and when population approaches it, the instinct of conserving the species causes suicide of some species (why Year of the Lemming?). It was developed by two scientists as well as the cure, however, they decided not to share it with the humankind... Why? After a while Malakhov, the only person possessing the cure now, realized that most of self-murderers were base people...
- But what to do, if man's nature undertakes by itself healing the society so, that no functioner had ever dreamt of? It heals brutally? Yes, of course. But it doesn't know other ways. And we don't know... if we try to heal radically. Which duty is higher? before people? before the country? before the humankind?
- Better not to be brought into existence, than to answer questions without answers! Every answer is a crime, every decision of way of acting is twice a crime...
The second part of the story is told parallelly. We see Malakhov as an outcast, escaping from commandos of Services. A specific feature of Malakhov is severe headache, preventing him from acts which would result in his death... and thus, leading him into safer positions. This "demon" helped him to go through numerous tests in the School, and to avoid mistakes as a functioner. This time it helped him to fly from Services time and again. But as the scale of epidemic grew, Malakhov's demon increasingly urged him to reveal the cure... Finally, when Services caught him, exhibiting symptoms of suicidal disease, he chose to reveal the cure rather than to die.
After few years public displeasure with Services will eliminate them. Loss of Services, which fought off sharp hazards will render the situation of soft landing possible...
Theme of power in Gromov's books
The theme of power is the key topic of two following books.
Novella Saint Vitus Minuet (Menuet Svyatogo Vitta, 1997)
Due to the collapse of a hyperspatial Channel, a colonial starship appeared in the vicinity of an unexplored star. The crew landed the starship on a planet which appeared to be suitable for life, but did not know that radiation from the star kills adults and prevents the growth of children. A society of 27 immature children survived, growing older and knowledge but retaining the emotions and physiology of children. Stephan Lorenz, son of the captain, became the ruler of the society; with his father's blaster being the base of his power.
The problem of survival turned out to be mostly psychological. Stephan uses policy of threats and bribery, acts like a dictator for his only goal — saving the people. His opponent is Peter, idol of the majority with whom all feel really living and safe, but leadership is all he wants:
"I warned you", said Margaret, "These expeditions should to be closed down long ago: every time Peter has full opportunity to work on people one by one. Have you noticed, who does he take with him? Supporters? Not at all. Hesitaters!"
"Did he invite you, too?" Staphan asked sullenly.
"No, of course. But I don't hesitate, you know. Others do, especially young kids, although they won't gain anything under Peter's authority. But, see you, he has interesting ideas."
"And have I?"
"Your ideas are already realized, that's the trouble. It turned out to be reliable, safe and boring, no offense intended. Why, you, probably, understand it yourself. It's safe and boring. Smooth... as a minuet. And you are pain in the neck of all, and nobody knows the answer to the question, why to live and who needs such a life..."
"Hush!" said Stephan.
"See, you are already angry." Margaret shook her head. "You are always such. You push people away, and Peter converts them to his views... And do you know, why am I for you? Do you think it's since logic is on your side? Ha! It's just that nobody would ask oneself under Peter, what does one live for. Everybody will simply try to survive. And some of them won't manage to do it..."
The long-standing crisis of Stephan's power will explode when Peter brings oil, better raw material than peat from his last expedition...
The novel Master of the Void (Vlastelin Pustoty, 1997) discusses transition of a peaceful nation, which lives in harmony with the nature to a phase of industrial war dictatorship, as the only way to survive in view of threat of fast elimination. It also discusses mechanisms of power, as the strong government has to emerge from almost nothing. The protagonist, just a usual man, becomes the leader, and it is shown how much addictive might power be.
- Official web-page of A. Gromov (old enough)
- Some works of Gromov at lib.ru (Russian)
- Gromov fans forum (and the corresponding site)
- Gromov's LiveJournal