Prisoners of Power

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Prisoners of Power
Author Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Original title Обитаемый остров
Translator Helen Saltz Jacobson
Country Soviet Union
Language Russian
Series Noon Universe
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
Published in English
Media type Print (Hardcover)
ISBN 0-02-615160-X
Preceded by Disquiet
Followed by Space Mowgli

Prisoners of Power, also known as Inhabited Island (Russian: Обитаемый остров, pronounced [ɐbʲɪˈtaɪmɨj ˈostrəf]), is a science fiction novel written by Soviet authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. It was written in 1969 and originally published in the same year in the literary magazine Neva (1969, No. 3, 4, and 5, publication of the Leningrad Division of the Union of Soviet Writers). It appeared book form in 1971, with a number of changes requested by the state censor; the English translation was released in 1977. The protagonist is a young adventurer from Earth of Strugatsky's universe, Maxim Kammerer, who gets stranded on an unknown planet named Saraksh.

Plot summary[edit]

The story describes the adventures of Maxim Kammerer. Kammerer is an amateur space explorer from Earth. This occupation is not considered serious and Kammerer is regarded as a failure by his friends and relatives. The novel starts when Kammerer accidentally discovers an unexplored planet Saraksh inhabited by a humanoid race. The atmospheric conditions on Saraksh are such that the inhabitants believe that they live inside a sphere. The level of technological development on the planet is similar to mid-20th century Earth. Recently, the planet had a nuclear and conventional war and the predicament of the population is dire. When Kammerer lands, the natives mistake his spaceship for a weapon and destroy it.

At first, Kammerer does not take his situation seriously. He imagines himself a Robinson Crusoe stranded on an island inhabited by primitive but friendly natives. He is looking forward to establishing contact and befriending the population of the planet. However, the reality turns out to be far from glamorous. Kammerer finds himself in the capital of a totalitarian state, perpetually at war with its neighbors. The population is governed by an anonymous oligarchy of Unknown Fathers, with police and military omnipresent. The city is grim and polluted. The ordinary populace leads the life of privation and misery. What goes on around Kammerer does not make sense to him, since his own society is free from war, crime and material shortages.

Eventually, it is revealed that to maintain the loyalty of the population, the Fathers employ mind control broadcasts. The broadcast towers pepper the landscape of the country. The mind-altering capabilities of the towers are kept secret, they are disguised as ballistic missile defense installations. Constant broadcasts suppress the ability to evaluate information critically, hence making the omnipresent regime propaganda much more effective. In addition, twice a day, intense broadcasts relieve mental stress caused by the disconnect between the propaganda and the observed reality by inducing an outburst of blinding enthusiasm. The authors give a masterful description of this process at work, describing the thoughts of one of the characters as he switches from the state of peeved boredom and disdain for his superiors to the rapturous adoration of people around him and life in general.

A minority of the population are not susceptible to the broadcasts. In these people, the intense daily broadcasts induce horrible headache and seizures. The Unknown Fathers — the ruling oligarchs are in this minority. They pay for the power to control the people by intense personal suffering during the daily broadcasts. The people outside the power elite that are not susceptible to the broadcasts are branded degenerates or degens by the state. They are actively persecuted. When captured they are either executed or sent to prison. The renegade degens organized an underground resistance movement and try to fight back by destroying the broadcast towers. The resistance does not have any political or military program and the fighters are united mostly by their suffering and their hatred of the towers. However, the rank-and-file of the underground is unaware of the main purpose of the towers. Apparently, the underground leadership wants to capture the broadcast network and use it to seize the power in the state for themselves.

Kammerer, still not quite aware of the situation, gets enlisted in the military. He is required to execute captured "degens", one of them a woman. When he refuses, he is shot. Kammerer survives, joins the underground and participates in a futile attack on a broadcast tower. Captured, tried and sent to a concentration camp in the South, the same one where he made his landing, he's finally revealed the truth about the broadcast system by a fellow prisoner member of the underground. Astonished and appalled by the revelation, Kammerer makes it his mission to rid the planet of the mind control broadcast system. Several of his schemes fail because the cure may be worse than the disease. He tries to organize an invasion by barbarian tribes from the inhospitable desert in the South. He then tries to contact the state's neighbor — the Island Empire. He abandons this plan after finding documents on a destroyed Empire submarine that describe mass killings and other atrocities that the Empire military perpetrates. He now focuses on trying to find and destroy the Control Center where the mind control broadcasts originate. Meanwhile, the Fathers decide to start a small victorious war on the country's northern neighbor, Honti. Kammerer surrenders to local gendarmes and is assigned to a penal battalion that is supposed to lead the invasion of the North. In this abortive action, most of his friends perish while Kammerer himself barely escapes annihilation in retaliatory nuclear blasts.

It turns out that Kammerer is not affected by the broadcasts in any way. A Father known as Smart realizes that and plots to use Kammerer to stage a coup and take over the power in the state, his intent urged by the failured war in the North, for which he voted and will now have to face dire consequences. His plan is for Kammerer to capture the Control Center and use the mind control broadcasts to incapacitate his rivals and control the population. The Center is protected by intense local broadcasts that make it impossible for anyone but Kammerer to penetrate it. Initially, Kammerer plays along. However, after gaining access to the Center, instead of using it to gain power, Kammerer destroys it.

In the end of the novel it is revealed that one of the Fathers — Strannik (literally "Wanderer") - is a human progressor Rudolf Sikorski. Strannik was carefully preparing the operation to gradually improve the lot of the people of Saraksh. His plan was ruined by Kammerer's actions. Strannik catches Kammerer and lambastes him for his interference. Strannik describes the unanticipated consequences of Kammerer's rash actions: up to 20% of the people may die or go insane due to the withdrawal of the mind control transmissions on which they have become dependent; Saraksh faces famine, anarchy, widespread radioactive pollution, and invasion from the Island Empire. Strannik tells Kammerer to leave the planet. However, Kammerer refuses and stays to help Strannik stabilize the situation. Despite the upheavals that Saraksh has to go through, Kammerer is still glad he destroyed the Control Center because now the people are in charge of their own destiny.


According to Boris Strugatsky's later reminiscences,[1] the Strugatsky brothers were planning to write a sequel to Inhabited Island. However, following the death of Arkady Strugatsky, the surviving brother felt that he could not bring himself to write the novel. The novel would have been named "White Ferz" ("Белый Ферзь"). Ferz - the Russian term for Queen in chess, which has male gender in Russian. The novel would have followed the story of the infiltration of Maxim Kammerer, now a progressor, into the heart of the Island Empire.

The Island Empire would have been shown as consisting of several social "circles". While the outer circle represents a fascist militaristic society, the middle circle is a peaceful liberal society, and the inner core is a highly developed harmonic society of intellectuals, similar to the Noon Universe Earth. A special social apparatus directs each citizen of the Empire according to his personality to the circle where he belongs.

The book would have shown that this cruel social selection of the Island Empire is the more (or even the only) realistic way for a social utopia to exist, and by contrast would doubt if the Noon Universe's Earth is realistically possible, so much so that it is actually suggested to Maxim by one of the leaders of the Inner Circle (when he finally makes contact with them) that his "Earth" is really an imaginary world, some literary invention that is impossible to have existed in the real world (serving as the authors' final judgement upon their own creation).

Two other sequels exist, Beetle in the Anthill and The Time Wanderers, but their plots are almost independent from the first book: they have the common characters, Maxim Kammerer and Rudolf Sikorski, and the events of Inhabited Island are only briefly mentioned. The events that authors planned to describe in White Ferz took place at some time between the events of Beetle in the Anthill and The Time Wanderers.


There have been announced three PC games based on the novel: adventure game Inhabited Island: Earthling developed by Step Creative Group, strategy Galactic Assault developed by[2] and first-person shooter Inhabited Island: Prisoner of Power by Orion Games.

A two-part Russian movie adaptation was released in December 2008 [3] and April 2009.

English editions[edit]

The English translation is based on the censored version of the novel, as the original version was unavailable to the translator.


External links[edit]