RED STAR (1908) – Written by Alexander Malinowski under the name Alexander Bogdanov. This pro-communist science fiction novel came three years after the failed uprising of 1905 and sixteen years BEFORE Aelita: Queen of Mars, a silent sci-fi film which depicted a similar communist paradise on Mars.
The main character of the novel Red Star is named Leonid, shortened to “Lenni” most of the time. Lenni is a scientist and a revolutionary who hopes for a communist revolution in Russia. When he authors a brilliant paper on atomic physics and anti-gravity, he catches the attention of a man who calls himself Menni.
Menni at first presents himself as a member and recruiter of a secret global society which possesses technology far more advanced than the rest of the world. Eventually it turns out that Menni and the other members of the secret society which Lenni joins are really Martians. They are identical to Earthlings except for their larger eyes, narrower jaws and slightly wider heads.
They reveal that Lenni’s brilliant paper described the concepts of nuclear fission and anti-gravity that the Martians use in their spaceships. Recognizing his superior mind they sought him out in order to take him on board their interplanetary vessel and transport him to Mars. Once there they will let him observe their culture like they secretly observed Earth culture during their stay.
The spaceship is shaped like a globe and has no true command structure, as one of the laughable examples of Bogdanov’s communist theories which are littered throughout the novel. The crew members simply carry out all their duties harmoniously with no need for leadership. All are equals and are experts in their fields.
During the journey to Mars Lenni is taught the Martian language by Menni, Netti, Sterni and the elderly Letta. Our protagonist forms a special bond with the physician Netti. SPOILER: Later in the novel it is revealed that Netti is a female, but Lenni never realized it at first because Martian clothing and mannerisms let them embody the “unisex” ideal of communist thought.
Lenni and Letta perform an onboard experiment on the way to Mars. The experiment goes awry and Letta sacrifices himself to save the rest of the crew.
At length the spaceship reaches Mars, where Leonid learns that the planet’s color stems from the red vegetation which covers the surface. There is a planetary government, thus wars are a thing of the past. Martians live in identical housing, with no one having a “better” residence than their comrades.
Individualism is crushed, with collective actions and collective identity looked upon as the ideal. Museums focus on group history, not individuals. The only “enemy” according to Martian values is nature itself, which must be overcome and tamed to continue crafting the industrial and technological wonderland of Mars.
Overpopulation is a problem, yet birth control of all kinds is rejected, intriguingly enough. Assisted suicide is common, however, with sections of hospitals dedicated to the process.
Machines reveal where work is needed at any given time and in what fields, and Martians volunteer to work in whatever jobs need filled at the moment. There is no requirement to work, but all Martians do so out of a sense of civic duty.
Lenni works in a factory which produces clothing as he adjusts to Mars’ superior technology and collectivist culture. Over time our hero’s inability to completely submerge his individuality results in problems which are diagnosed as delusions and other psychological maladies.
While the physician Netti treats Lenni’s “condition” he at last realizes that she is a woman. Predictably, they begin to fall in love. Leonid is at first distressed at the fact that – with Free Love the norm on Mars – Netti has already had several sexual partners before him. He adjusts to the situation, however. (Yes, just close your eyes and think of Earth, Lenni!)
At length Netti and Menni are among a mining expedition to Venus for radioactive materials and while they are gone Lenni falls in “love” with Enno, another Martian that he had mistakenly believed was male up until now. Over the course of their affair, Enno reveals to Leonid that she used to be married to Menni, and Netti used to be married to Sterni (from earlier in the novel).
Again Lenni feels discomfort, as his jealousy makes him even more uneasy about Martian concepts of Free Love and multiple partners.
Ultimately, when the Venusian expedition returns, Lenni takes part in a massive meeting about the results. Because of his status as a newcomer, our hero was kept ignorant of the fact that Mars’ overpopulation has reached a crisis stage. Birth control and similar measures are still rejected as “regressive,” so colonization of either Earth or Venus was being considered.
As it turns out, Venus is inhabited by hostile dinosaur-sized creatures, so Earth has become the only alternative. Sterni in particular pushes extreme action, leading a faction calling for the extermination of backward Earthlings so that Martians can inhabit the Earth.
Netti and Menni lead a faction advocating for trying to colonize Venus instead, rather than wipe out an intelligent species. Lenni is overcome with emotion and kills Sterni, hoping the pro-genocide faction will falter without his voice.
Upon further reflection, Leonid fears that his action may have actually provided justification for wiping out all human life on Earth. He flies back to our planet, but is put into an insane asylum when no one believes him about his Martian adventures.
Eventually he comes to believe that he really did just imagine his visit to Mars and is released. He throws himself into fighting on the side of the many communist revolutions which have begun flaring up all over the world in this fictional setting. In the end, however, Netti at last locates Lenni and the two fly back to Mars.
Red Star is a fun read in parts but has a major flaw. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember that many of the concepts in this novel had already been presented in many, many earlier works of “ancient” science fiction. It’s a bit silly for Bogdanov to wrap such old and well-worked themes in a “communist theory” dressing and try to present them as bold and revolutionary.
It can also be argued that there is comparatively little “science” in Red Star’s science fiction. Most of the emphasis is put on the social and psychological implications of the story.
In 1913 Bogdanov wrote a prequel novel titled Menni the Engineer. The story centered on the namesake ancestor of the Menni character in Red Star. That earlier Menni participated in the building of the Martian Canals and in the communist revolution which swept Mars.
FOR TEN MORE EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/03/03/ten-neglected-examples-of-ancient-science-fiction/
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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