Prisoners of Power
|Author||Arkady and Boris Strugatsky|
|Original title||Обитаемый остров|
|Translator||Helen Saltz Jacobson|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
Published in English
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|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 1969 in the literary magazine Neva (1969, No. 3, 4, and 5, publication of the Leningrad Division of the Union of Soviet Writers); in 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 — Maxim Kammerer who gets stranded on an unknown planet Saraksh.
The novel is set in the 22nd century of the Noon Universe. Mankind is capable of near-instantaneous interstellar travel. Earth social organization is presumably Communist, and can be described as a highly technologically advanced anarchistic meritocracy.
There is no state structure, no institutionalized coercion (no police etc.), yet functioning of the society is safeguarded by raising everyone as responsible individuals, with guidance of a set of High Councils accepted by everyone in each particular field of activity.
It is a society of highly morally evolved individuals that has solved all of its material problems, knows no crime, feels no threats (except possibly from unchecked scientific exploration) and spends much of its efforts in scientific research (space exploration done mostly by volunteers), arts, education and caring for the young. Teachers are the most honorable profession.
One of the controversial occupations is progressor. They are agents embedded in less advanced humanoid civilizations in order to accelerate their development or resolve their problems. Progressors' methods range from rescuing local scientists and artists to overthrowing local governments.
The book is set on one such war-torn post-nuclear war planet, Saraksh, where a space-exploring Earth youth gets stuck after his rocket is first damaged and then blown up, forcing him on his journey of discovery and contact within a fascist society of one of the planet's countries.
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 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. Kammerer gets captured 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 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 North. 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, 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).
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 Wargaming.net and first-person shooter Inhabited Island: Prisoner of Power by Orion Games.
The English translation is based on the censored version of the novel, as the original version was unavailable to the translator.
- Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Prisoners of Power (Best of Soviet Science Fiction) translated by Helen Saltz Jacobson. New York: Macmillan Pub Co, August, 1977, 286 pp. ISBN 0-02-615160-X. LCCN: 77005145.
- Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Prisoners of Power translated by Helen Saltz Jacobson. New York: Collier Books, 1978, 286 pp. ISBN 0-02-025580-2.
- Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Prisoners of Power. London: Gollancz, 1978. ISBN 0-575-02545-X.
- Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. Prisoners of Power. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd, July 28, 1983, 320 pp. ISBN 0-14-005134-1.
- Борис Стругацкий. Комментарии к пройденному (журнальный вариант)
- "Wargaming.net". Wargaming.net. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
- "Totalitarian society invades Russian screens — RT". Russiatoday.com. 2009-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
- Read Prisoners of Power by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky on the Perm mirror of Maxim Moshkow Library.