“The Lunar Bomb” (novelette) by Andrei Platonov
English Publication History: Worlds Apart: An Anthology of Russian Science Fiction and Fantasy (The Overlook Press, 2006), Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)
Original: Russian (Лунные изыскания), 1926
Translated by Keith Blasing, 2015
Synopsis: An ex-miner with big ideas better suited for the big city, Peter Kreuzkopf heads for the capital with his technical plans for sending a sphere into space. Surprisingly, his plan is passed by the board for approval and initial construction begins. Ignorant of his device’s own power, he electrocutes to death forty workers and soon is found of administrational malfeasance. Found guilty and imprisoned, he tries to take his life but is later restored to his own project that he had lost hope on. Still with a deathwish, he impresses upon the government for him to ride on his own device to the moon.
The Author’s Work: Platonov was once heralded as a significant writer in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s, just after the famine and right before the first Five-Year Plan in 1928. Both readers and critics found his work significant, but later drew unfortunate scorn from the State for his criticism of the system. Today, he better known for his novels Chevengur (1926, untranslated) and The Foundation Pit (1930/1987). According in Wikipedia:
In terms of creative works, Platonov depicted one of the first state-controlled dystopias of the 20th century. The novel is often compared to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. However, both English novels were published long before a translation of The Foundation Pit became available. (link)
Analysis: Though this story was written in the same year as he reputedly significant novel Chevengur, I didn’t find much of an anti-establishment or dystopian theme throughout; rather, dedication seems to be of importance here… perhaps with social parallels.
Peter Kreuzkopf is and always has been a common man, a working man. His marriage ended in disaster as she herself was a proletariat. They never managed to see eye to eye or share the same interests. As he is and always has been an engineer at heart, he could never adapt upward to the proletarian lifestyle of which his wife was so fond. Though he tried to dedicate himself to his socially lofty wife, he failed.
In the capital awaiting word of the success of his submission, Peter Kreuzkopf takes a freelance job testing cars. He only needs to take the car out and drive it so many kilometers before bringing it back for them to analyze the data. On his first drive, he swerves to miss an animal only to hit a small boy. Stopping the car and going to the boy’s aid, he sees that the youth was already dead. Solemnly, he buries the boy and promises to dedicate his life to the poor commoner boy. Though he tries to do so, one obstacle gets in the way: himself.
Bent of suicide, his last hope rested with the State to allow him to board his own experiment to fly to and orbit the moon. When even they denied him, he cut his last thread of dependence and fell back on the only person he had left: himself. With the legal system on his side, he takes a step closer to the death that awaits him, a death so righteous for such a man with limited perspective—the death of a hermit rather than a voyager.
Review: If you can think past the contraption that spins/revolves thousands or millions times per minute, maintain its integrity, and allow a human to survive on board before it’s flung—with precision, mind you—into the orbit of the moon… then there’s a mildly compelling tale of a man trying to find a toehold in the jagged façade of his society, where relationship fails him (wife leaves), his dedication fails (seems to forget the boy he killed), even his work fails him (he accidentally kills come workers). As he himself is the obstacle to all of the above, his last goal also finds himself as the obstacle—can he commit suicide? It may not be heroic, but it’s what his fate defines.