“Rays of Life” (excerpt) by Yuri Dolgushin
English Publication History: Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)
Original: Russian (Генератор чудес), 1939
Translated by Yvonne Howell, 2015
Synopsis: Collaborating, Nikolai and Ridan have a device and a method that’s able to literally kill a body and later revive it free of its previous symptoms of disease or illness. A number of other mammals have undergone the routine, each taking longer to revive as they move up the evolutionary ladder, so the current experiment with Anna is taking considerably longer. Amid the tense atmosphere, they discover a German spy who is bent on sabotaging their experiment, but their angst at success weighs more heavily upon their shoulders.
Pre-analysis: “Rays of Life” comes between Belyaev’s original novelette “Professor Dowell’s Head” (1926) and Curt Siodmak’s novel Donovan’s Brain (1942), both dealing with prolonging the life of a disembodied mind. This vivification of life or the sustenance of the spark of life seems to be a trend during these three decades. Dolgushin isn’t a widely known writer in the sphere of English literature, neither in the literary sense nor in the genre sense. According to my resources, only the above-mentioned novel has been translated into another language—Romanian (1961). So, with Red Star Tales, this excerpt from a novel is the English-language sphere’s first exposure to Dolgushin. He’s also published screenplays, so-called sketches, and articles, but Generator Wonderland (1939) remains his only stand-alone novel.
Analysis: As this novel (the spy element of which involves a Nazi) was written on the eve of Europe’s descent into total war, perhaps the novel is best taken into context with the chaos that ensued from the war: shifting alliances, redrawing of borders, and the millions of deaths. Hitler invaded Poland in the same year as the story was published, the same year, also, when Russia invaded their own “spheres of influence”, according to their non-aggression pact in August, 1939.
“War is hell” is largely attributed to the American Army Civil War general named William Tecumseh Sherman. Hell on earth wasn’t limited to the American civil, but found more fertile and expanse grounds in Europe with World War One (around five million military deaths, one-third of which was Russian). World War Two, however, saw more than eleven million military deaths in addition to more than seven million civilian deaths. Russia knows hell very well, all too well.
But what if the plague (war) could be eliminated by killing the body (government)? Acts of aggression between nations can only be perpetrated by heads of government and their respective bodies of government. Suppress, quash, or eliminate said government, and war with another nation is thereby cut off… in theory, of course—remove an aggressor and there’s no aggression. This is abstract, naturally, as the opposing aggressor would remain steeped in anger and would take occasion of any situation to gain an advantage (like flogging a dead horse, as if it were an enemy).
It’s a romantic vision of life as a simple routine: A becomes infected with B, suppress/deaden A, B passes away as a consequence, revive A to its full natural state. This romanticism works in parallel with the excerpt’s themes; on the cursory level, it’s meant to be the thriller rather than a thinker, a science experiment rather than a social experiment.
Review: Dolgushin has a different take on this disembodied-mind theme yet spices it with romance, spy thrill, and science. As the introduction states: “Dolgushin wanted to fill his novel [505 pages of which] with lightly fictionalized, but genuinely exciting information about new discoveries in the biological and physical sciences” (14). This mere excerpt captures all these themes: revivification, romance, spy thrill, and science… and the chapter excerpt feels as forced as you might expect. Stated again in the introduction, the original full-length novel “does not stand out for its artistic merits” (14).