Saturday, September 17, 2016

Cursing my stupid fate

"Haven't you ever noticed, Mr. Glebsky, how much more interesting the unknown is than the known? The unknown makes us think — it makes our blood run a little quicker and gives rise to various delightful trains of thought. It beckons, it promises. It's like a fire flickering in the depths of the night. But as soon as the unknown becomes known, it's just as flat, gray and uninteresting as everything else."
Another strange little book from the Strugatsky brothers: The Dead Mountaineer's Inn. All the books of theirs I've read so far are completely different from one another. You never know what you're going to get.

For the most part, this is a detective novel. Unexplained goings-on in an isolated setting, hints of a ghost, a petty theft, and a police detective on holiday casually investigating these things. Then there's a dead body.

But I thought Boris and Arkady Strugatsky wrote sci-fi. Maybe there's a sci-fi element that picks up on the unidentified flying objects alluded to in the opening pages.

And there's the fact that this book is pretty funny. In a Shot-in-the-Dark ridiculous kind of way, only our investigator is more of a Columbo than a Clouseau.
I looked and I snooped. I clambered around in the basement, peeked into the shower, examined the garage, the boiler room, the generator room — I even took a look at the underground oil tank. Nothing. Naturally, I hadn't expected to discover anything, that would have been too simple, but my damned bureaucratic integrity wouldn't let me leave any stone unturned. Twenty years of impeccable service are twenty years of impeccable service; anyway, it's always better to look like a scrupulous blockhead rather the the slapdash man of talent in the eyes of one's superiors, not to mention subordinates. So I groped, crawled, wallowed, breathing in dust and trash, pitying myself and cursing my stupid fate.

When I made my way out of the underground tanks, upset and filthy, it was already dawn. The pale moon was leaning to the west. The huge grey cliffs were covered in a purple mist. And what fresh, sweet, frosty air had filled the valley! Damn it all!...
I would read whole series featuring Inspector Peter Glebsky.

His stay at the inn is peopled by a bunch of weirdos, and I'd happily read the novels (that don't exist) that tell their back stories, in particular that of the famous physicist, who's unbeatable at pool and literally climbs the walls.

(One "comedic" element gave me pause. It seems nobody can tell whether one particular teenage character is a boy or girl, and it's played for laughs ad nauseam, our intrepid detective performing awkward linguistic gymnastics to avoid wrongly gendering the youth. And that's just, I dunno — is that funny? This novel was published in 1970; a product of its times, maybe its humour doesn't play as well today. Or maybe it's just me. But I recall reading that the Strugatsky brothers don't write women well, if they bother at all; that they are misogynistic, both in real life and in their fiction. Which colours the humour somewhat; I can't help but feel mean-spiritedness in this circumstance more than comedic ambiguity. But what do I know? Maybe it's funny.)

Everything is mostly resolved in the end. It's not exactly straightforward, though; in fact, it's outrageously over the top, in the best possible way.

And yes, this novel really is science fiction.

No comments: