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We Modern People
Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity
Anindita Banerjee

Early Classics of Science Fiction

2013 • 230 pp. 8 illus. 6 x 9"
Literary Criticism / Science Fiction

$24.95 Paperback, 978-0-8195-7334-6
$75.00 Hardcover, 978-0-8195-7333-9

$19.99 Ebook, 978-0-8195-7335-3

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

(Hardcover is un-jacketed.
Cover illustration is for paperback edition only)

In We Modern People, an erudite and thoughtful study of Soviet science fiction, Anindita Banerjee uncovers the literary responses and manifestations of Russia’s struggle to come to terms with modern... [continued in Reviews below]”—Veit Elser, Science

How science fiction forged a unique Russian vision of modernity distinct from Western models

Science fiction emerged in Russia considerably earlier than its English version and instantly became the hallmark of Russian modernity. We Modern People investigates why science fiction appeared here, on the margins of Europe, before the genre had even been named, and what it meant for people who lived under conditions that Leon Trotsky famously described as “combined and uneven development.” Russian science fiction was embraced not only in literary circles and popular culture, but also by scientists, engineers, philosophers, and political visionaries. Anindita Banerjee explores the handful of well-known early practitioners, such as Briusov, Bogdanov, and Zamyatin, within a much larger continuum of new archival material comprised of journalism, scientific papers, popular science texts, advertisements, and independent manifestos on social transformation. In documenting the unusual relationship between Russian science fiction and Russian modernity, this book offers a new critical perspective on the relationship between science, technology, the fictional imagination, and the consciousness of being modern.

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Reviews / Endorsements

"In We Modern People, an erudite and thoughtful study of Soviet science fiction, Anindita Banerjee uncovers the literary responses and manifestations of Russia’s struggle to come to terms with modern science and technology. …We Modern People successfully underscores how, already by the 1920s, Russian writers and artists of all ilk--not just a handful of science fiction writers--were deeply engaged in critiques of positivist notions of modernity. Banerjee’s deeply insightful recovery of this discourse adds much fodder for thought for those who confine their studies on the history of modernity and its relationship to science and technology to Western Europe and the United States. There is much to learn from her book."—Veit Elser, Science

“Banerjee is eloquent on the Western cultural and scientific influences—including Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Georges Cuvier, Lord Kelvin, Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson, and not least the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès— who informed this shift in consciousness. … Banerjee’s genuinely valuable contention is that science fiction unified the traditional discourse of Orthodox utopianism with modernism’s radical spiritual potential. She convincingly traces the continuities between Enlightenment scientists such as Mikhail Lomonosov and avant-garde irrationalists like Velimir Khlebnikov, marshaling in support an impressive battery of Western critical theorists, from Foucault to Lefebvre.”
Muireann Maguire, Times Literary Supplement

We Modern People uses a breathtaking variety of sources, including everything from political pamphlets to portraits of Lenin, scientific and philosophical treatises, cinema, popular journals, and political pronouncements to expand not only the concept of science fiction itself but also its role in the evolution of modern social and political thought. Banerjee’s selection of fascinating novels, poetry, film, and art combines with her discussion of some of the scientific work and political thought going on in that period. This approach effectively illuminates her provocative main theme: that Russian science fiction of this period was in many ways not only richer and more exciting than its contemporary Western equivalents but also dynamically linked with the formation of modern Russian consciousness in general.” Susan Napier, LA Review of Books

Banerjee’s book does much to challenge preconceptions about Russian science fiction and science in Russian culture more generally. In particular, it rightly cautions against the binary division of SF scenarios into ‘utopias’ and ‘dystopias’ or seeing early Russian SF through the prism of its post-war Soviet equivalent.”
Michael Froggatt, Slavonica

“Cornell University Professor Anindita Banerjee uncovers the secret history of early Russian science fiction, and how SF tied in with Russians' obsessions with modernity, in her new book We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity. We're lucky enough to feature this exclusive excerpt, dealing with the founding of Nature and People and early writers such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Yevgeny Zamyatin.” io9

“162 pages of chiseled thinking and no padding. ...We Modern People...does the hard work of a path-breaking book. ... In short, Banerjee’s book is a very, very smart one, and it is right on time.”Yvonne Howell, Times Higher Education Supplement

“Banerjee should be credited for bringing a critical light to bear on a less-studied and convulsive period of Russian history and for examining the links between emerging science and the fantastic literature of the era.”James R. Simmons, Extrapolation

We Modern People is a solid addition to the ever-expanding array of scholarship that addresses questions of art and life in the late imperial and early Soviet eras. … (it) provides plenty of evidence that imaginative fiction was no passive bystander in the emergence of a uniquely Russian sense of the modern.”Aaron Weinacht, The Russian Review

“Bannerjee’s book examines an astounding variety of texts to weave together analysis of science, popular culture, and science fiction into a fascinating vision of Russian modernity. Her study surprises the reader at every turn with fresh insights and a fast-paced overhead view of a world where the boundaries on traditionally drawn literary maps are no longer visible. Banerjee’s highly entertaining and meticulously researched book explores the intimate connections between science and literature during this period of rapid technological and scientific change, and with luck will give a much-needed push to the study of Russian and Soviet science fiction. Most important (for me at least) is the fun of reading Banerjee’s book. Her highly readable narrative combines science, literary theory, and textual analysis into a book that is entertaining as well as informative and thought-provoking.”Eric Laursen, Modern Language Review

"This sophisticated and engaging study examines science fiction not so much as a literary genre but as a key focus for melding, evaluating, and interpreting the carious scientific and technological advances, philosophical notions, ideologies, and popular concerns that together constitute the world of Russian modernity."Barry P. Scherr, Slavic and East European Journal

“The basis of this book is an original and tremendously engaging idea—that science fiction served as a crucial model for national literature in Russia. It made Russian modernity possible. Banerjee treats science fiction not as a genre but as a mode of apprehending the world.”Stephanie Sandler, Harvard University

“Making the compelling connection between mass-scale revolutionary technological projects, such as the Trans-Siberian railroad, and the avant-garde campaigns to transform the Russian/Soviet imagination, Banerjee demonstrates how the techno-political and science-fictional imaginations are entwined in the modernization process. This book is an exemplary study in linking the popularization of science with modern literature.”Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., author of The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction

ANINDITA BANERJEE is an associate professor of comparative literature at Cornell University.

Tue, 15 May 2018 13:09:44 -0500