translated by Daniels Umanovskis
original publication (in Russian): 1986
first English edition (as The Time Wanderers): 1987, Richardson & Steirman
this edition: 2023, Chicago Review Press
grab a copy here or through your local independent bookstore or library
When you pick up a book by two of the greatest science fiction writers of the 20th century, you know you’re going to love it. And the Strugatsky brothers’ The Waves Extinguish the Wind, in a beautiful translation by Daniels Umanovskis, doesn’t disappoint.
The last novel in the Noon Universe, Waves brings to an end the story of a 22nd-century Earth that has become a communist utopia and sends “progressors” out to alien planets in order to guide their civilizational development. Not surprisingly, this human effort to “help” other races makes those in charge of progressor missions start to wonder if maybe alien progressors (called “Wanderers”) are trying to do the same thing on Earth.
Waves tells the story of Toivo Glumov, an ex-progressor and current employee of COMCON-2, through a series of documents and from the point-of-view of Glumov’s boss, Maxim Kammerer (a character featured in many of the Noon Universe books). In his late eighties now, Kammerer began his career as an explorer and progressor, but returned to Earth to work for COMCON-2, a security and intelligence service that investigates, among other things, traces of Wanderer activity on Earth. Now, Kammerer is overseeing Glumov’s work, which has revealed a multitude of seemingly-inexplicable events that point to the Wanderers.
The collection of documents that Kammerer offers us details Glumov’s investigations into “Penguin syndrome,” “fukamization,” and the incident at Malaya Pesha. “Penguin syndrome,” so named for the kind of space ship on which some of the victims traveled, manifests itself in a dream in which an individual
finds himself floating in empty space, helpless and powerless, lonely and forgotten by everyone, at the mercy of soulless, insurmountable powers. Physically he feels torturous suffocation, feels his body burned by piercing, destructive radiation, his bones thin and melt, the brain start to evaporate, he feels unimaginable, indescribable desperation, and then he wakes up. (24)
This kind of dream results in what Kammerer calls “cosmophobia.” One theory about it is that the Wanderers are trying to discourage humans from venturing any further into space.
“Fukamization” involves babies getting injections that will help them adapt better to their environment. It improves immune resistance and helps the body deal with the hazards of space. Though it had been mandatory for years, a sudden movement against it convinced world leaders to make it voluntary, meaning that now fewer humans are able to have this kind of physiological strength. Kammerer, Glumov, and others wonder what suddenly made mothers around the world refuse to give their babies these injections.
Finally, there’s Malaya Pesha, the place where a sudden influx of strange alien creatures–gooey, small, disgusting but also weirdly beautiful–spread throughout the town, terrifying its residents and sending them to the null-transporter to escape. Only two residents–an old woman and a teenage boy–don’t feel revulsion for the creatures. In fact, the woman feels sorry for them. Glumov theorizes that this was a test, on the part of the Wanderers, of xenophilia among the human population.
Eventually, Glumov’s findings lead to what Kammerer calls “The Great Revelation,” which reveals to humanity what it has become through the long process of evolution. It throws into question everything Glumov has believed but opens a new door for him…which I won’t tell you about because you need to read the book!
As does every Strugatsky book, Waves will make your brain work and consider things you’ve never thought about before. It’s science fiction at its best.