Books, Writings and Ideals
From our first meeting, Efremov's wealth of knowledge
and understanding of the world and its people intrigued me. He knew a great deal about the culture, the diverse peoples, history and
politics of the United States, not just history book facts, but a sense of the
problems of the different parts of the country and the
critical aspects of both local and national politics. At this time, in 1959,
the racial problems that surfaced at Little Rock had
stirred wide interest in the Soviet Union, and the first question I was asked after a talk in Leningrad was, belligerently, what
about Little Rock? Efremov somehow was aware of the deeper aspects of this matter.
I had speculated that he had a short wave radio and that his knowledge of
several languages might be an explanation of his broad knowledge and understanding. But this may or may not have been true,
and his knowledge was not that to be
gained from overseas broadcasts anyhow. What might have been apparent to
me at the time of my first visit to his old
apartment, in what appeared to be a done-over
factory, dawned on me only much later. This apartment, like his later one near Moscow University, was lined with shelves of books. He read everything he could get
his hands on in Russian, English,
French, German, Italian and Spanish, and I expect some other languages as well. Both his breadth of knowledge and understanding, and the sometimes
strange selective twists that his
thinking took, were the product of this smorgasbord of reading superimposed
upon his mixed social background, his
travels during geological exploration through Asia, and his early romantic encounters with the sea.
The major themes in his non-scientific writing — the
dominance of dialectical balance and sources of knowledge, ideal communism,
the equation of man and intelligence, a goal of happiness, history, heroism
and a pervasive, creative gentle eroticism —
form the olio blended on the substrate of omnivorous and largely
Most of the books that he read could not be obtained
Soviet Union and much of what he could get there he felt to be trash. He would pore over booklistings in
magazines, ads and the books he received, cull out interesting titles
and send "wanted" lists to his
network of friends around the world. Although
there was really no way he could repay the favors, many of us scoured
the markets and sent along what we could find. I did, Mrs. Alfred Romer did, and so did Mrs. D. M. S. Watson of London and Richard Van Frank of Boston. Book
dealers knew him well and helped
where possible, but usually he could not pay them for their services and
books. I am sure there were other persons in many countries who received and
responded to his lists. In my case, when I
was in the Soviet Union, Efremov did
"repay" me by aiding in the purchase of gifts for my family, payment
that was not at all necessary because the real value lay in his friendship. Most books were sent freely and
without any thought of obligation.
The "wanted" lists were a hodgepodge and, in
all, totalled hundreds of items. One that I received in 1971
is fairly typical.
James Crazier, Runt of Cygni
R. Valum, Taurus
Gaskell, The Serpent
Millet and Jean L'ange, The School of Venus
Rohmer, Daughter of Fu Manchu
C. Phillipes, The Garden of Earthly Pleasures
Yorks, Agency House, Malay
W. Ross, Bombay After Dark
Newton Keith, Three Came Home
Other lists contained a
variety of such books as:
On the Beach
and the Naked Lady
Fantasy and science fiction magazines
and so on.
These, and many like them, were to be sent by mail.
Air mail registered was the safest way. Some that I sent, such
as Mystery Magazine, were intercepted because they
were not licensed. They were merely taken
out of the packet, and the rest of the books delivered. Books that could not be
sent had to be carried in. This never
posed me any problems for at no time were my bags opened.
reason that some books would not get through was that the censors simply appropriated them, at least so I was told by Efremov. Epoxy was one of these. It was
a moderately erotic French hardback
"comic book" about the escapades and adventures of a member of a tribe of Amazons, females
of heroic anatomy little concealed by
scant cover. Efremov explained that he
needed it as a basis for illustrations in his novels, being unable to obtain proper models in the Soviet Union. He
had asked a British book dealer, Mr.
Alan Myers, to try to get it for him from France. But, of course, he could not pay the book dealer for the book or for his service. So I was to send the
needed funds to London, $10.00 if I
recall rightly, and the dealer would buy the book and send it to me. Then I would carry it to Efremov when I next visited Moscow. I did, having been both
pleased and amazed at this artistic
and outlandish brand of comic book. Pornographic
comics are a stock-in-trade in many countries, but this was rather an artistic, erotic adventure
story. I would have thought it would not be allowed in, but Efremov
assured me that the only problem was that
the censors would steal it. It would not be rejected on technical
Many books, however, would have been officially
rejected, either because they were not on the acceptable list or
because they might raise some suspicions. Copies of my
scientific monograph Late Permian Vertebrates of the USA and
USSR did not get through on the first sending, as
mentioned earlier. They were registered and so came back. I gather the USA-USSR
did it. I sent them again and a more "liberal"
censor must have been on duty and they went through. On
the Beach took two tries as well.
At the time that I was going to Russia to study,
Efremov would send me "to bring" lists. These give
some idea of what he thought would not pass the censors, for one
or another of the above reasons. One list I received in 1961
included the following:
Morley, A Majority of One
J. Michener, Sayonam (Michener's works would not make it, I gather, so I
took several. Efremov "ate them up.")
Sneider, Tea House of the August Moon
Beddiaeff, Russian Idea
Burgess, Small Woman
Pusie, Top Secret Mission
Shaw, The Young Lions
L. Poca, History
of Eroticism: de Erotica
Babarelle, Adventure of Jodelle (another erotic comic book)
Of the hundreds of titles he requested, I was only
able to find a small percentage, for paperbacks come and go rapidly, with the old found
mostly in the garrets of bookstores; take your
pick — in the 1960s — at 10 cents a pound. Patterns are not at all clear in Efremov's lists. History,
adventure with an erotic flavor, and sea romances stand out. There is a
strong bias toward Asiatic stories. Concerning
a package I had sent, Efremov wrote,
Thank you ever so much for the books. You know I read
every good and exciting book. So I accept with pleasure your gift. I have tried to read Faulkner [which I had sent,
unsolicited, as an example of our
literature] but I am not mature in dainty language nor a philologist and I find Faulkner flows through my
mind in vain.
As for mysteries and detective stories, it seems to me
that this sort of literature is coming to an end
over the whole world with every year loss of readers. The historical novel
with good erotic are now again arisen and have more success than before. Have
you noted this peculiar phenomenon? I think
it comes in the face of the apprehension and uncertainty in the current life conditions in the damned atomic age.
Science fiction tends to be short on character
development and anything but the most superficial romanticisms. Of course, there
are exceptions. The emotional parts of Efremov's stories are
somewhat subdued and often rather awkward from our point of
view. But his books carry a consistently erotic flavor. His longer stories
blend sexual tensions into his full concepts of
the meanings of life and man, intimately tied to the erotic qualities of music and art. This unusual
combination in science fiction and
fantasy is critical to the deeper framework of his studies of the future
and distant places. They form a medium for
his deeper ideas. His library book plate and other figures he enjoyed,
illustrated in figures 31-33, are suggestive of his latent tastes.
In our conversations never was there a hint of
preoccupation with the erotic. It could be that, in his writing, Efremov was catering to what he perceived as a popular
demand, necessary to assure a wide
audience for his work. I doubt it. Rather, reticence in conversations probably reflected his preference for "the old ways" in personal contacts, in
line with the use of formal names.
Perhaps the reputed Victorian or Puritanical Russian treatment of sexual matters, our stereotype, did enter in. I
never saw anything to refute this, but then a casual observer likely would not.
Requests for Forever Amber, Peyton Place, Epoxy and
so on prompted me to send one of our "vulgar
books." It came about through a slight misadventure when a friend, Paul
McGrew, and I had lunch in a Washington, DC,
bar. Our well intentioned plans to
see the city via Gray Line Bus Tour ended in a burlesque house. The show was predictably routine, jokes a
hundred years old, water squirting
in improper places, awkward strips, and
bumps and grinds with appropriate drum beats. As always, during the
intermission, candy, watches, and "girlie" picture books were hawked. I bought a book for 25 cents
and gave it to Peter Chudinov, who
was in Washington for a meeting, to take
to Efremov. He took it back to Moscow. In due time, Efre-mov wrote to me and I could hear his strong Russian
accent and stammer as he answered,
Peter brought me the Frolics
Book. What on earth is the matter with American men! Fat cows, leaning
over to be milked. In Russia we prefer the
Figure 31. The book plate
Efremov used in the 1950s.
Figure 32. The fanciful
image of a great, carnivorous dinosaur from the Cretaceous preserved in a photosensitive
mineral slab. From Stories — Shadows
of the Past as translated into
English (1954) — a title in the Soviet Literature
for Young People series. The illustration is by G. Petrov.
Figure 33. The "human brain" as portrayed by
the use of nude females. A remarkable reproduction of the external anatomy of
the brain representative of Bystrov's
He did have a healthy interest in the slightly vulgar,
but his erotic sense was more sensitive and idealistic,
coupled with his love of beauty, which found its finest
expression in the perfect human body. His book plate,
his love of ballet and gymnastics, and abhorrence of contact
and violence in sports are all in this vein. His novels often raise erotic
tensions, but just as quickly lower them in
the face of social and moral discipline. This is nowhere clearer than in his
story Cors Serpentis.
Far from earth, some 78
light years away:'
It was a wonderful world, but man, in his insatiable desire for
knowledge had reached the very chasms of cosmic space, searching the solution
to the riddle of the Universe. The space warp ship, the latest triumph of human genius, made it possible to answer the call
of distant worlds.
"Yes, there's the other side," Kari Rami [a man] said aloud,
unaware that he had spoken until Moot Ange's
deep resonant voice singing an old
song brought him to with a start.
The other side of love
rolling deep as the ocean's flood
Now narrow as a winding star
escape, it's in your blood
the swimming pool of the starship, a sexual tension builds as divers, "their tawny skins gleaming with the glint
of bronze that only a healthy outdoor existence can give, plunge in physical contact into the water."
Tensions and momentary jealousies
arise between the physically perfect males and females, build during waking
periods, always giving place to inbuilt
it be wonderful, Kari, to find some secret passage on board?" The speaker was Taina, a tall, slender girl in a short
tunic of shining green fabric that
matched her eyes. Often she irritated the staid, level-headed Kari by
"Leading to some mysterious chambers where
...," Kari replied.
"Yes Kari, go on . ..."
"That's as far as my imagination goes
But Taina had got into the spirit of the thing, she
pulled Kari after her into a dimly lit passage. An unfamiliar emotion
seized him as he took the girl's hand.
"Let's go to the library," he said. "I
still have two hours before my watch."
She followed him obediently. The air grew vibrant as
the door opened with the tumultuous sounds of
"It's Moot Ange," she said, pressing Kari's fingers.
The music flowed in intervening
harmonies .... Just then the door opened and Afra Devi, the doctor, slipped into
the room to report an emergency
are from a translation of Cors Serpentis, somewhat edited. In a few places
the continuity has been slightly altered to give the basic flow without
extensive attention to the non-essential.
Two space ships from different parts of the galaxy —
one with an oxygen-based life, the earth ship, and the
other with a fluorine-based life — had made a close approach
encounter, exchanging information, although no direct personal contact was possible because of the antagonistic life support media. Near the
end of the meeting . . .
The stranger switched on terrestrial lighting and the
earth men turned off the blue light. Two of the
strangers, a man and a woman, threw off their dark red clothing
and stood naked, hand in hand, before the earth men. The harmonius proportions (of
their bodies) accorded fully with the
earthly concept of beauty.
Their heads sat proudly on their long necks. The man
had broad shoulders and the general physique of a worker
and fighter, while the wide hips of the woman in no way jarred with the
intelligent power that emanated from these
inhabitants of the unknown planet.
The terrestrial light went out. At the commander's
request, Tey Eron and Afra Devi stepped up hand-in-hand before the transparent partition. Their superb beauty caused a sharp gasp of admiration from their
comrades. The strangers too seemed similarly affected. They looked briefly at one another in wonder and
exchanged brief gestures. "Now
I have no doubt that they know what love is," said Taina. "True, beautiful human love — since their men
and women are so beautiful and clever."
So much of Efremov is in these passages!
Sometime in the far future, an ideal state of man, not
the cataclysmic rises and falls of "Leibowitz,"
will be attained through the dialectical processes which are the
structure of reality. Such is the deepest hope and the message
that runs through many of Efremov's major, non-scientific later
works. Man and intelligence are one and the same and, where
one arises, the other must be. No force-field
intelligences; no melding in an Omega Point of a matterless, Teilhardian
spiritual skein; no monsters and no ruling
Only now, perhaps, did the astronauts fully realize
that the driving force of all their searches, dreams and struggle was the good
of Man. The most valuable thing in any civilization, on any star, in any island
universe was Man, his reason, emotions, strength and
beauty — his life!
Man's happiness, preservation and development was the
main prospect of the future — now that the 'Heart of the Serpent' had been vanquished and there was no mad, ignorant,
malicious waste of vital energy as
there had been at lower stages of development.
Man was the only future force in the Universe that was
capable of acting intelligently at overcoming the more formidable obstacles and
advancing to a rationally organized world — the triumph of all-powerful life
and the flowering of human personality.
Merging everything that he was, Efremov had this