July 26, 2006

The precursor to 1984

John J. Miller reports:

Authors sometimes gripe about the long wait between the completion of a book and its publication. Perhaps the sad case of the Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin will help them put things in perspective: He finished his novel "We" in 1921, but it didn't appear in print in his native land until 1988.

The problem wasn't that Zamyatin and his manuscript were obscure or unknown. Rather, it was that they offended communist censors, who correctly understood "We" to be a savage critique of the totalitarianism that was starting to take shape in the years following the Russian Revolution.

They managed to suppress "We" inside the Soviet Union, but they weren't able to keep it from making a deep impression elsewhere: Two of the most iconic novels in the English language--"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley and "1984" by George Orwell--owe an enormous debt to Zamyatin.

That's because "We" is the ur-text of science-fiction dystopias: It described an Orwellian society almost three decades before Orwell invented his own version. Although the book has never been especially hard to find in the U.S.--editions have been in print since 1924--it will now become even more readily available, thanks to Natasha Randall's new translation, published this month by the Modern Library.

Reading the in-depth description of the book further down in the article makes it seem like George Lucas got all his ideas for THX-1138 from the novel.

Posted by Hube at July 26, 2006 09:27 AM | TrackBack

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