The Strugatsky Brothersâ€™ Sci-Fi Went from Starry-Eyed to Sad
J Thoendell stashed this in Reading
Near the beginning ofÂ The Dead Mountaineerâ€™s Inn, a 1970 novel by the Russian science-fiction writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the innkeeper, Alek Snevar, proposes to his guest, police inspector Peter Glebsky, that mystery is always preferable to explanation. â€śHavenâ€™t you ever noticed how much more interesting the unknown is than the known?â€ť Snevar asks. â€śThe unknown makes us thinkâ€”it makes our blood run a little quicker and gives rise to various delightful trains of thought. It beckons, it promises. Itâ€™s like a fire flickering in the depths of the night.â€ť
Itâ€™s a strange idea to appear at the beginning of what seems to be a locked-room mystery novelâ€”a genre in which all puzzles are meant to be solved. Soon after Glebskyâ€™s arrival, a blizzard blocks the road to the inn. Right on cue, another of the guests, a Scandinavian named Olaf Andvarafors, is found dead in his room with his neck twisted, the window open, and the door locked from the inside. Everyone at the inn is a suspect: Simone Simone, a nervous, billiard-playing physicist; Hinkus, a â€śyouth counselorâ€ť on sick leave; a celebrity magician named Du Barnstoker and his androgynous ward, Brun (â€śthe sole progeny of [his] dear departed brotherâ€ť); an imperious alcoholic named Albert Moses, and his knockout wife, Mrs. Moses. Then there is Snevar and his maid, Kaisa; a St. Bernard named Lel; and Luarvik L. Luarvik, a mysterious one-armed man who shows up half dead after being caught in the storm. With this bizarre cast you expect to find plenty of red herrings before a hiding-in-plain-sight solution is revealed.
Instead,Â The Dead Mountaineerâ€™s InnÂ departs from anything that either detective or readerÂ could deduce. For the Strugatskys, the deviation was practically involuntary. In his 1999 memoir,Â Comments on the Way Left Behind, Boris Strugatsky writes that they intended to write a commercial mystery novel along the lines of Erle Stanley Gardner or John le CarrĂ©. But they were unable to resist their speculative impulses: in place of a clever solution for the events at the inn, they introduced a bigger mystery.