Snail on the Slope
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Snail on the Slope (Russian - "Улитка на склоне") is a sci-fi novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. The novel was written in 1965, but it had a difficult time getting to readers, and was not published in a full version until 1972, in the Federal Republic of Germany.
In the spring of 1966 the so-called "Forest" part of the novel was separately published in the USSR. In 1968 the other part was published, in the journal "Baikal". The novel was first published in its entirety in the USSR in 1988. The brothers Strugatsky have described this novel as the most perfect and the most valuable of their works.
The novel consists of alternating chapters belonging to two loosely-coupled parts: "Directorate" (or "Peretz", this part was published in 1968) and "Forest" (or "Kandid", published in 1966).
A linguist Peretz, having being dreaming of visiting the Forest for years, has finally arrived at the Forest Directorate, perched on a high cliff amid endless Forest down below. He is unable to visit the Forest though, being refused the required permit time and again. He tries leaving the Directorate but each time is promised the car will be made available to him "tomorrow". All he can do is watch the Forest while sitting on the cliff's edge high above it, suffer through the car driver Tousik's endless sexcapades stories, and otherwise take part in Directorate life which is full of absurdity.
The Directorate has departments of Forest Development; Forest Eradication; Local Population Assistance; Engineering Penetration; Scientific Security; etc. The Directorate personnel drink kefir with enormous appetite, calculate with broken adding machines, issue strange orders, and listen to the Director's speeches on their personal telephones, each supposedly hearing their own special version. When they are supposed to hunt down some top-secret escaped robot they do so with their eyes shut, as seeing secrets is forbidden. Most of the staff only ever visit the Forest for a short trip to the bio-station where the salary payments are made. And this is the only way Peretz can see the Forest.
When he is evicted from his hotel for the expired stay permit and still not being able to obtain his leave permit, having finally spent a night with Alevtina, a female employee who has long courted him, Peretz awakens to find himself a General Director. Now at the top of this monstrosity, his every word is eagerly followed to the letter, however absurd the outcome might be.
Kandid, a Directorate employee, survived a helicopter crash over the Forest several years ago. Saved and cured by the natives, he now lives among them in a village, his thinking as blurred and foggy as theirs. They lead simple lives in apparent symbiosis with the Forest, exhibiting some biological powers. From time to time he is able to remember his former life, and is eager to get to the bio-station, to his own people. But the Forest is supposedly full of dangers; Kandid wants the locals to help him travel through it. Every day he wakes up making plans to leave the village and go "to the City" the day after tomorrow. One day this suddenly happens, when his wife Nava asks him to accompany her to the nearest village and they go off the track unintentionally.
In their travels he finds out there are more to the Forest people than just villagers, who are in fact a forgotten leftovers from a past way of life, now being discarded by advanced and more powerful parthenogenetic female "comrades-in-arms" based in and around lakes, in full control of the Forest. Sex is considered an atavism by them, an unwelcome relic of the past; a male is regarded as nothing more than a he-goat, and villages are being "overcome" one by one unawares (drowned, together with the males), in a slow but unrelenting action.
Thinking this future too cruel and terrible Kandid decides to throw in his lot with the villagers. He returns home and tries to warn them but they take Kandid's stories of ruthless Amazon rulers of the Forest as laughable fairy tales, preferring to live in blissful denial and ignorance. Whatever the future must be, decides Kandid, his place is here, among these nice good people, trying to protect them as much as possible for as long as he possibly can.