Space Mowgli, novel by Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky (1971) - Book review by Kadmon
Space Mowgli, novel by the Strugatsky brothers (1971)
image © Macmillan

Article updated: 2020.02.11

The Space Mowgli is a novel by Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky. The book was reviewed by Kadmon.

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Product: Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: Space Mowgli novel (1971)

Writer: Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky

Title: Аркадий Стругацкий и Борис Стругацкий: Малыш / Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: Kid

Setting: Noon Universe

Date of publication: 1971

English edition: Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: Space Mowgli, Publisher: Macmillan, Date of publication: 1982, Translated by: Roger DeGaris

Hungarian edition: Arkagyij Sztrugackij és Borisz Sztrugackij: A kölyök / The kid, Publisher: Móra Ferenc Könyvkiadó / Kozmosz Könyvek, Date of publication: 1977, Translated by: Apostol András

Product type: Novel, 150+ pages, Genre: Futuristic science fiction, Style: space exploration

Reviewer: Kadmon, Type: Male, 40s, Taste: Immersive, logical story, consistent setting, prefers surprises

Reading: Recent (2020.01), I might have read it before, but I didn't remember any of the story

Rating: Average (2/3 pont), Enjoyment: Lower than average (2-/3 pont)

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The Space Mowgli is a novel by Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky, published in 1971. The version I've read is the Hungarian edition, published by Kozmosz Könyvek in 1977. This is a space exploration story, about a group of scientists who run into unexpected events on a terraforming mission. The events are realistic, the characters are bland, but believable. I liked the Space Mowgli book from the Strugatsky brothers, it was an interesting reading, although nothing exceptional.

Space Mowgli, novel by Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky (1971) - Book review by Kadmon
Space Mowgli, novel by the Strugatsky brothers (1971) Hungarian edition - A kölyök
image © Móra Ferenc Könyvkiadó

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Spoiler free review - Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: Space Mowgli novel

When I wanted to read a book, I took this off the shelf, and this was the next after the latest Strugatsky brothers novel I've read. I had the Space Mowgli novel because I've collected the sci-fi series of Kozmosz Könyvek.

This is a futuristic science fiction story of a terraforming mission gone awry, by unexpected events. The novel is set in the Noon universe series, a futuristic setting created by the Strugatsky brothers.

The characters are bland, they don't get too deep descriptions, or have detailed personalities. They are either just boring, or their motivations are just secondary to the plot. Although it's good that they base their actions on logic -being scientists- instead of emotions, showing that they actually have emotions would be better. The characters are so interchangable, I was halfway through the novel when I realised one of them is a female. Her name should have probably given that away earlier, but I didn't think the names were significant.

The story of the Space Mowgli book depicts a very realistic space mission - it's mostly about reading sensors, writing reports, taking part in meetings. Although this makes the novel very slow, it gives a sense of reality to it.

The Space Mowgli novel is about scientifically examining their findings, and I liked how things were different from our expectations. There are practically no action scenes or adventurous elements.

I'd recommend the Space Mowgli book for those who are interested in space exploration and science fiction stories, but there are better ones out there. Eden from Lem comes to my mind.

I'm not sure whether I've read it before, as the story is somewhat unremarkable among similar space exploration stories. I have a feeling I've read the Space Mowgli book in the 1990s, with the rest of the Noon universe novels from the Strugatsky brothers, and there were some scenes in the book that were familiar, but overall I couldn't decide.

Rating: Average (2/3 pont). The prose is good, the story is interesting.

Enjoyment: Lower than average (2-/3 pont). I liked reading it, but the ending was disappointing.

Chance of reading this again: Very low. There are better books out there to read, but I might browse through the Space Mowgli book, when I'll start to read the Noon universe books again.

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The Hungarian edition - Arkagyij Sztrugackij és Borisz Sztrugackij: A kölyök regény

The Space Mowgli book I've read was the Hungarian edition from Kozmosz Könyvek, a division of the Móra Ferenc Könyvkiadó. The translation of the Space Mowgli novel by Apostol András 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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Review with spoilers - Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: Space Mowgli novel

The Space Mowgli book is an interesting story of first contact with a totally alien civilization through a human kid who acts as an intermediary between two worlds.

I liked how the Strugatsky brothers depicted the alien kid, how he tried to communicate with the members of the mission.

I also liked the characterisations of the protagonists, but they were very sparse. It was nice to see how Maya, the female crewmember try to get close to the ignorant Stas, and when he doesn't act on her advances, she gets colder towards him, yet he doesn't understand what is happening. It would have been better to see more moments like this throughout the story.

Plot summary

An inhabited planet is about to become uninhabitable to the indigenous population due to some catastrophe. Humans decide to create a world for those people where they could live after they are moved to their new home through the Ark Project. The characters of the novel are about to terraform a new, seemingly uninhabited planet, when they run into unexpected events. Some of them feel an invisible presence, some hear voices, the robots are acting against their orders. Then they find a crashed human spaceship with the remains of two humans, a male and a female. The data storage of the ship was manually deleted. They quickly realise that according to the regulations, a pilot has to delete the memory of the ship, if they find out there is a technological civilization living on the planet. While they contemplate on this, an apparition appears that they chase into a nearby bog where it disappears. They also find another alien presence, some kind of macrostructure that get active when they are in contact with the creature. Next day the apparition comes back, and they soon find it out that their guest is the surviving son of the crashed couple (the Space Mowgli of the title). The kid has multiple enhancements that enable him to live on this planet. He most likely got it from the aliens who also created the macrostucture, but the kid states that he was alone on this planet all the time, there are no aliens here, but the human explorers.

While they try to get to know the kid better, one of their members, a female tries to sabotage their work, because she thinks it's unethical to try to force themselves on the kid. After a while, one of the leaders of their operation contacts them to stop their first contact attempts, because they came to the conclusion that this civilization is so closed to contact they won't be succesful. Also, they have found a killer satellite above the planet, that was responsible for shooting the spaceship that crashed. They think the killer satellite was installed there by an another ancient, benevolent civilization, the Wanderers, that wanted to protect the civilization on the planet from newcomers who would disturb them, by killing the visitors.

They agree to abandon the planet, although it is revealed that one of the protagonists is still in contact with the kid via an interplanetary communicator.

The setting

The Space Mowgli novel is set in the Noon universe - a socialist utopia of the future, created by the Strugatsky brothers. The story takes place on a seemingly unihabited planet the characters try to terraform into a habitable one.

The message of the story

It's hard to say. There are two things that are debated in the Space Mowgli book, I suppose those should be the main points.

1) How should they approach the kid: One side tries to make friends with him, to get to know him better, so they are able to get to know the planet and the inhabitants better. The other side says to leave him alone, he is happy as he is, bothering him will be harmful for the kid. The novel tries to imply that the second view is the right one, but there is no evidence that would help us decide. If we don't get to know him, his life, we can't decide whether or not he is happy. As far as we know, if there is any kind of humanity in the kid, being alone on a whole planet could make him crazy due to the deprivation of human connections. It looks to me as if it would be better to protect him from new experiences, that would allow him to be a better person.

2) How should they approach the original inhabitants: One side tries to observe them, trying to make some kind of contact. The other side says that it's futile to try this, it's a closed civilization, they will never be able to make contact. The story implies that the second approach is the right one, but again, there's no evidence. They don't even have time to come up with ways to contact the inhabitants, they are stopped by their peers.

If the Strugatsky brothers really wanted to hammer these points into the reader, they should have shown us why is the first approach wrong in both cases. Even if they didn't want any action happening in the Space Mowgli book, they could have at least listed similar events on previous expeditions, to show us what happened there.

The structure of the story

The story of the Space Mowgli book is written in a dry prose, like many other works of the Strugatsky brothers. The realities of space exploration are detailed meticulously - we experience everything the characters do.

Stupid things

There were a couple of references to things in the Space Mowgli book that are already outdated now, but I don't think it would detract from the reader's experience. Changing them to more neutral references might help though. For example, instead of "casette tapes", they could have used a more generic "data storage", instead of references to ink, probably the blackness of space.

Reading it now (2020), the technology of Space Mowgli novel is already dated. The robots use light panels to communicate, there seem to be no drones or satellites, the characters have to do everything by hand. While this makes the story unrealistic, it allows for a greater immersion for the reader, because it makes everything more closer to the characters, making their story relatable. So, in the end, I think it would be better to let it stay this way.

I didn't really like the scientist final decisions, they weren't based on evidences, just the hunch of one person, that got accepted by everyone else. This seems to be a continuing trend in my Strugatsky brothers readings, as the previous Definitely Maybe also had this problem. I'd like to see scientists observe, theorise, build models, and test their ideas, instead of just sticking to the first idea of one of the characters.

For example, the kid feels uneasy in the presence of the human explorers. They know that the kid is in contact with the inhabitants, so come up with the idea that it's the inhabitants of the planet that don't want the presence of humans, and then take that for granted. But there's also the possibility that the 12 year old kid, who has never seen humans, or this many people together, would feel uneasy because the experience is new to him, and he doesn't know how to act properly.

The killer satellite of the Wanderers doesn't add up with the listed facts. We are told that the Wanderers are a hyperadvanced benevolent civilization. We are told that the Wanderers value the life of the planet's inhabitants so much that they've felt they need to protect it. We are also told they installed a weapon to destroy visitors on sight, instead of trying to warn or scare them. It had only wo missiles, and it's empty now. So, what about the value of the lives of the visitors? If they are so advanced, killer satellites are the best way to protect the planet? It doesn't seem very clever to me. If the planet was approached by three ships at once, it could have killed only two, the third would just go through. Also, attacking without a warning is not a peaceful way to make sure people stay away. If they manage to shoot a ship of a warlike species, this attack could start a war against the planet. Either way, it's not a good start for a relationship with the inhabitants. The scientist and investigators involved should also think of these options, so they are either lying, stupid or very misguided about the Wanderers.

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How does it compare to the other works of the author?

The Space Mowgli book not the most interesting reading, nor the most well written novel of the authors. Most Noon universe story is slow, but Space Mowgli is a book that just crawls compared to them. Strugatsky brothers have written better prose than this, but the story has some good points.

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Possibilities of improvement

I'd change the outdated references in the Space Mowgli book I've mentioned previously.

As I mentioned before, it would be a good addition to see more of the personality of the protagonists. Some quirks, dreams, goals in life, these would add to the experience.

Also, it would be great if it would be made clear what do the Strugatsky brothers think, what is the right thing to do in a first contact situation like this. If they really want to avoid showing us the dos and don'ts of it, they could just list previous events, what went well, what went wrong, what do the scientists think about it.

The killer satellite is problematic. My first instict is to get rid of it. Make it a warning system, or even a shield generator around the planet to make sure nobody reaches the inhabitants. The spaceship crashed into the hidden satellite, then it got off course, and crashed into the planet, killing the crew. The satellite also got so damaged that the shield got switched off. Or something like this, to avoid having a seemingly benevolent civilization killing at first sight. Or, in another approach, the killer satellite could remain, but it shouldn't be the sign of a peaceful species wanting to protect the planet, and we shouldn't be told that be seemingly intelligent people.

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Resources - Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: Space Mowgli novel

WikiPedia: Space Mowgli

TVTropes: Space Mowgli

Goodreads: Escape Attempt: Collection of review articles.

Reviews with no spoilers

KIRKUS REVIEW: ESCAPE ATTEMPT: Short review article with no spoilers.

Siderite's Blog: Space Mowgli (The Kid) - Arkadi&Boris Strugatsky: Short review article with no spoilers.

Reviews with spoilers

Gerald Jonas (for The New York Times Book Review): OTHER WORLDS THAN EARTH: Review article with minor spolers.

Liene Arāja (on Happy And Famous): Space Mowgli By arkady And Boris Strugatsky: Short review article with minor spolers.

Richardo (on casa richardo): Escape Attempt (Попытка к бегству) by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky: Short review article with very minor spolers.

Reviews in Hungarian

moly.hu: Space Mowgli (in Hungarian): Review articles.

English version by Google Translate

Movie adaptations

IMDB: Malysh / Baby / The Kid / Space Mowgli (1987): Russian adaptation.

IMDB: Nesmluvená setkání / Unexpected Encounters (1995): Czech adaptation.

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Buying the product - Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky: Space Mowgli novel

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Have you read the Space Mowgli 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!

 

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