I had that luxurious experience of going to an ACTUAL bookshop to buy books, rather than clicking buy online, and decided to give this little book a go. It’s written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and was published in 1977.
There are several minor gripes that I’ll get to, but overall, it was a pretty fun read. Essentially, there are a bunch of scientists who are all either being bribed or threatened, in very different ways, to stop the work they’re doing. Eventually they all get together and are trying to thrash out what could be going on. Is it a super advanced civilisation, is it coincidence, is it something else?
The ultimate hypothesis put forward by one of the characters (the mathematician) is rather satisfying, in a very rationalist way. I mean, when you think about it, it’s as daft as any of the other theories, but I like the attempt at fitting it in the natural order of the universe. I also like the mathematician’s dogged determination to continue to fight against the overwhelming pressure being applied to them.
In between though, all the interactions and stuff happening to the main character are pretty funny. Like a comedy of errors almost, with him swearing and sweating through unseasonable heat in the summer. At the beginning it felt a bit over the top, everyone is always swearing, sweating, drinking, shouting or otherwise expressing themselves in a way that would have been VERY NOISY. This is one of my gripes in that it all added a patina of melodrama over the whole proceedings, but it didn’t detract too much from the overall story in the end.
Minor gripe number two is that there is also a smattering of casual sexism. All the main characters were of course, very brainy men, with most references to women being either about their appearance or something to do with the men. Though, the main character’s wife comes across as very sympathetic and clearly loved, which was nice.
Anyway, it’s only 150 pages and I just quite like it as a story. It was delightful clever.