Article updated: 2021.11.18
The Definitely Maybe is a novel by Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky. The book was reviewed by Kadmon.
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Original title: Аркадий Стругацкий и Борис Стругацкий: За миллиард лет до конца света / Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: One Billion Years Before the End of the World
Previous entries in the series: -
Setting: fantasy Earth
Date of publication: 1976-1977 (in Знание — сила / Knowledge is Power magazine)
English edition: Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: Definitely Maybe, Publisher: Macmillan, Date of publication: 1978, Translated by: ?
Hungarian edition: Arkagyij Sztrugackij és Borisz Sztrugackij: Egymilliárd évvel a világvége előtt, Publisher: Móra Ferenc Könyvkiadó / Kozmosz Könyvek, Date of publication: 1978, Translated by: Földeák Iván
Product type: Novel, 150+ pages, Genre: Modern fantasy, Style: conversations about the topic
Reviewer: Kadmon, Type: Male, 40s, Preferences: Immersive, logical story, consistent setting, prefers surprises to spoilers, prefers establishing elements before referencing them
Reading: Recent (2020.01), it's my first reading of the novel
Rating: Weak (2- out of 3 points), Enjoyment: Bad (1 out of 3 points)
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The Definitely Maybe is a novel by Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky, published in 1976. The version I've read is the Hungarian edition, published by Kozmosz Könyvek in 1978. It is a drama about researchers who face strange phenomena, hindering their works. I did not enjoy the book from the Strugatsky brothers, but it might be interesting for those who'd like to know more about the Russian reality under the Soviet regime.
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When I wanted to read a book, I took this off the shelf. I had the novel because I've collected the sci-fi series of Kozmosz Könyvek.
This is an drama, set in the Leningrad of the 1970s, where strange things start to happen to people who are about to achieve something meaningful. The writing style was slightly interesting, but as I turned page after page and there was neither action nor resolution, it started to get boring. The characters just sit around in their flats and talk about things, express their speculations about the strange happenings, then the novel ends. The plot took some turns during the story, but it still didn't go anywhere. Neither the characters nor their speculations are interesting for me, and I'm sure I wouldn't have finished the novel, had it not been written by the Strugatskys, whom I like.
The book is filled with popular cultural references of the time, probably included by the Strugatsky brothers to achieve a higher immersion by the readers of that time. However, I think this distracts the modern reader who has to take a moment off from reading, trying to understand the reference. It would not be a particularly bad thing if the story would be interesting, but it's not.
I've grown up at that time in the Soviet block, so I might not find it especially interesting, because I've seen it happening. I can imagine that people can enjoy reading a book about the everyday life of Soviet people, and about their speculations about the world, and I've seen several reviews praising this story, so there are those who are in the target audience of the novel.
Rating: Weak (2- out of 3 points). The prose is good, but the structure is bad and the story doesn't go anywhere.
Enjoyment: Bad (1 out of 3 points). I didn't enjoy reading it, although the style was good enough to read through the novel.
Chance of reading this again: Very low. There are better books out there to read.
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Definitely Maybe, novel by the Strugatsky brothers (1977) Hungarian edition - Egymilliárd évvel a világvége előtt
image © Móra Ferenc Könyvkiadó
The Hungarian edition - Arkagyij Sztrugackij és Borisz Sztrugackij: Egymilliárd évvel a világvége előtt, regény (1978)
The Definitely Maybe book I've read was the Hungarian edition from Kozmosz Könyvek, a division of the Móra Ferenc Könyvkiadó. The translation of the Definitely Maybe novel by Földeák Iván seems okay.
The artwork, printing and binding of the book is okay. My copy is still in one piece after all those years, although it's true that I care for my books.
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I didn't really like the novel.
Definitely Maybe plot summary / Synopsis
The main character is trying to come up with a solution to an astrophysical problem, when he starts to get constantly interrupted by postmen, phone calls, friends, neighbours, all causing him to delay finishing his equations. His neighbour tells him some strange things, then next day he is found dead. As he talks to fellow researchers, they start to tell their own tall tales about strange happenings that interrupt their own works. They gather together and try to come up with ideas about the cause. They fantasise about aliens, secret illuminati, and things like that. Disappointed by the interruptions, they give up finishing or publishing their works. One of their friends volunteers to take their works from them, and he will then move to an abandoned part of the world to stay safe.
The original title (One Billion Years Before the End of the World) refers to one of the theories. They think that their scientific works will be used for something bad one billion year later, and the defensive system of the universe is trying to prevent that from happening, that is why those strange events happen.
It seems to be our world, in the 1970s. The particular location of the story is Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). The strange events look like they could be everyday occurences, so there might not be supernatural forces involved in the story.
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The message of the story
It seems to me the novel is about outside forces hindering your works, showing us the characters giving up their works one by one, due to different circumstances. But I'm not sure about the message of the Strugatsky brothers in Definitely Maybe. Shall we give our life works to people who will hide with it? Shall we volunteer to be the one who will hide those works?
There are shows of force from the outside power that can be a social commentary about the Soviet Union intervening in the daily life of people, but it doesn't say anything new or interesting about this. If they wanted to focus the book on this, the allegory should have been better, as the mentions of supernatural forces take away from this.
There are many mentions of the differences between the 19th and the 20th century, but I didn't really understand where would that go. It seems to me the Strugatsky brothers preferred the former to the latter, but this might be because they were living in the latter, while reading romanticised stories about the former.
The structure of the story
The novel is structured as if we get excerpts of the whole story. Every chapter starts with finishing an interrupted sentence, probably to get a feeling of interruption. Then every chapter is about conversations of the characters, without any change.
Strange character: The characters, although seemingly clever people, don't really act like they are. They are scientists, but they don't seem to collect evidence, try to find proof of their theories, they just accept their own interpretation of the events, and don't seem to change their minds by the others.
I'm not sure the Strugatsky brothers try to show us how stupid scientists are, or just bad at writing a compelling story. As both of them were scientists, I can imagine they had their share of bad experiences with other scientists, but then, there could have been at least one scientist as a paragon of the story, to show us how to do this properly.
What is the cause of their problems? Is there a sentient antagonist at all?
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Possibilities of improvement
I think the Strugatsky brothers should have focused more on what they wanted to say through the novel, and build a tighter version around that. I've felt that the authors didn't find the right amount ingredients in the book - length of the text, humour, interesting characters, mystery, supernatural or totalitarian regime.
The idea of an outside force intervening is good, but the novel itself is too long for this premise, especially as we don't get any definitive answers.
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How does it compare to the other works of the author?
For me, Definitely Maybe was the worst Strugatsky brothers story I've read. They wrote slow stories (The Dead Mountaineer's Inn), hard to understand stories (The Doomed City), but both of those were a better read for me. For a similar, but probably more enjoyable read, I recommend The Second Invasion from Mars from the same authors.
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Behind the scenes
According to this interview, the main protagonist, Malyanov was based on Boris Strugatsky, and he was so indecisive because of this. Also, it seems to me the authors imply that they think the sentient universe hypothesis is the true antagonist of the story.
Thoughts about the reviews of others
I've seen that many reviewers of the book took it for granted that the reactive universe theory is a reality in the novel, probably because that was the last idea to be told to the main protagonist, and there was nobody to clarify the faults of the idea. However, it's just one of the idea that were floating around, and none of those got investigated, nor confirmed. In the end, there might not be any kind out outside forces playing in the story, just the randomness of life and the interventions of certain individuals, for their own purposes.
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- There's probably a sentient force that tries to hinder scientific advances.
Scenarios - Role-playing game
Scenarios - Wargame
- Random hinderances: On the beginning of every turn, roll a d6 for each player. One a roll of 1, they may choose one of these:
- Put a small scenery piece anywhere in the playing area, except on top of player models.
- Remove a small scenery piece and put it back on the playing area, from a maximum of 10 cms of its original place.
- Remove a small scenery piece from the playing area, that is not an objective, or something that belongs to one of the forces (for example, a tent, cart, siege engine).
- Choose an enemy model, and give it an order as if it were your own model. If there's another enemy model nearby, it can spend its action to step to the model and stop it.
- Choose an enemy squad, and it spends this turn reporting in, or listening to the commander. Unless a higher ranking officer moves to join the squad to give them an order, the squad won't do anything that turn.
Miniatures - 1/50-1/60 (28-32mm scale)
Civilians: Human-sized contemporary human civilians.
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I remember a short story, when a demon was sitting on the writer's shoulder, trying to distract him from his work. Then the writer died, and the demon agreed to continue his novel. Then another demon appeared on the shoulder of the demon, to distract him from finishing the work.
Dni zatmeniya / Days of the Eclipse (1988): Russian adaptation of the Definitely Maybe novel.
Egymilliárd évvel a világvége elött / One Billion Years Before the End of the World (1983): Hungarian adaptation of the Definitely Maybe novel.
Miljardi vuotta ennen maailmanloppua / One Billion Years Before the End of the World (1986): Finnish adaptation of the Definitely Maybe novel.
Prin to telos tou kosmou / Before the End of the World (1996): Greek adaptation of the Definitely Maybe novel.
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Goodreads: Definitely Maybe by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky: Collection of review articles.
Reviews with no spoilers
Danny Yee's Book Reviews: Definitely Maybe Arkady Strugatsky + Boris Strugatsky: Review article with no spoilers.
KIRKUS REVIEW: DEFINITELY MAYBE: Review article with no spoilers.
RebeccaOppenheimer (for Ivy Book Blog): Book(s) of the Day: The Little Demon, by Fyodor Sologub, and Definitely Maybe, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Short review article with no spoilers.
Reviews with spoilers
Edel Grace Altares: Book Review: Definitely Maybe by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Review article with minor spoilers.
Ho Lin (for Your Impossible Voice): Review: Definitely Maybe by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Review article with spoilers.
Matthew Spencer (for Asymptote Journal): From the Orbital Library: “Definitely Maybe”: Review article with spoilers.
New Puritan (for Golden Apples Of The West): Arkady and Boris Strugatsky - Definitely Maybe (1976): Review article with spoilers.
Richardo (on casa richardo): Definitely Maybe by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Short review article with very minor spolers.
Rina Tim: Definitely Maybe… (a book review): Review article, includes plot summary.
Reviews in German
Life in the 22nd Century: Definitely Maybe (in German): Review article.
Reviews in Hungarian
moly.hu: Definitely Maybe (in Hungarian): Review articles.
IMDB: Egymilliárd évvel a világvége elött / One Billion Years Before the End of the World (1983): Hungarian version of the Definitely Maybe from the Strugatsy brother.
IMDB: Miljardi vuotta ennen maailmanloppua / One Billion Years Before the End of the World (1986): Finnish version of the Definitely Maybe book.
IMDB: Dni zatmeniya / Days of the Eclipse (1988): Russian version of the Definitely Maybe novel.
IMDB: Prin to telos tou kosmou / Before the End of the World (1996): Greek version of the Definitely Maybe novel.
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Have you read the Definitely Maybe novel from Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky? How do you like the book? Would you recommend it to others? Do you know reviews or resources you'd like to add? What further thoughts do you have about it? Tell your opinion in the comments!