“Infra Draconis” (novelette) by Georgy Gurevich
English Publication History: A Visitor From Outer Space (Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961), Soviet Science Fiction (Collier Books, 1962)
Original: Russian (Инфра Дракона), 1958
Translated by Violet L. Dutt, 1961
Synopsis: With ideas in his head and stars in his eyes, Rady Blokhin yearns to meet the famed space navigator Grandpa Charushin, who’s been the first man to Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, etc. Rady’s radical idea: There may be black-bodied stars—called infras—that are so small that they don’t radiate light yet they have enough warmth to heat its surface internally. Charushin takes to the idea and soon one is found seven light-days away, a thirteen year flight. They both join the six-man mission and discover not only one, but two infras.
Propaganda: Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for the 60th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, propaganda slogan #11:
Long live the indissoluble union of the working class, kolkhoz peasantry, and national intelligentsia! Strengthen the social-political and ideological unity of Soviet society!
Analysis: Charushin isn’t only the universally admired hero of the state, but he’s only a caring and concerned individual. His triumphs in space have never detracted him from the core of his existence—before being a hero, he was simply a man, and forever a simple man he will be. Now, however, he is a man of the people, so he must help those who lack his influence and power.
His down-to-earth approach wins admirers in the scientific community as well as among the people at large. Charushin even entertains the scientific whims of an eager, young man named Rady. The young man’s convictions, though continually against the opinions of the other professionals, wins the mind and heart of Charushin. When Rady’s nearly preposterous theory is proven correct, Charushin takes yet another leap for being such a well-admired hero of the state: he enlists for the mission.
Charushin’s dedication towards serving his people and his nation doesn’t cease even when he’s seven light-days from his mother country. When an unexpected discovery throws the mission into a tailspin, Charushin naturally, as the hero of the state, takes it upon himself to rectify the problem. The solution is an immensely personal one, yet he doesn’t think of himself—he only thinks about the success for his crew, his people, and his country.
Though Charushin is never mentioned of having received any distinction from the Soviet Union, his unprecedented statue as a hero must certainly qualify him for the nation’s highest distinction: Hero of the Soviet Union. Up until its disuse in December 1991, the award was given to 12,775 Heroes, many of them egotistical politicians and war veterans from WWII, but all Soviet cosmonauts also received the award. Naturally, as the highest distinction from the state, all recipients of the award should be held in the highest regard in terms of respect and morals. Charushin fits this profile by being selfless in the face of danger and by giving his life—in more than one regard—to the advancement of the state.
Review: Modern-day hero worship is a watered down affair where praise is given to those who do very little for such respect—actors, singers, soldiers, etc. For the most banal of reasons, many loft these so-called heroes with endless praise for, usually, one simple, unifaceted fact: they sing a hit song, they are admired; they star in comic book movies, they are admired; they enlist, they are admired. I’ve seen them all fall from shame, unworthy of the initial title of “hero” which was so carelessly lofted upon them. The word “hero” greatly loses its meaning when it’s vaunted toward every person who raises a finger.
Charushin, however, is worthy of the term… probably much more so than the other 12,775 so-called Heroes of the Soviet Union. His professional and humanistic acts are worthy of praise; he leads a productive life that benefits everyone; and he isn’t above sacrifice or ego. I doubt Charushin would fall from shame by his shameless acts of drug indulgence, misogyny, or highhandedness.
Compound this worthy worship of the hero with an interested scientific angle and the story is propelled by its own steam. It’s intriguing, respectable, and worthy of my own praise for being the best story in the collection.