Definitely Maybe

Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky
Definitely Maybe Cover

Definitely Maybe: A Manuscript Discovered Under Unusual Circumstance


This novel was written in the 1970's and the setting appears to be contemporary to that period. Leningrad is recording the hottest weather on record for the past two hundred years. In his sweltering apartment, the astrophysicist Dmitri Malianov is doing important work, Nobel Prize important work. He has sent his wife and the bobchik to the coast for some privacy. Privacy will allude him.

A bag of gorceries, filled with unimaginable delicacies, arrives. A lovely young woman, a friend of Malianov;s wife arrives to do some cooking, cleaning, and to spend the night, A neighbor, whose pets Malianov watches during the neighbors frequent, vaguely explained trips prepares for his next outing. In the morning he is found dead, and the police are on hand to investigate -- murder or suicide? Malianov's friends, all scientists like himself, begin to call, They are facing difficulties in their work. They drop by. Endless cups of tea and some vodka are consumed. Everyone is at a stalemate. It is as though some outside force is blocking their work.

A friend described this novel to me as "barely science fiction," and I can see his point. Although one scientist friend suspects he has been visited by an alien, the pressure that exert themselves on this group of three or four friends has no immediately seeable cause. Which doesn't at all lessen its effectiveness, More tea must be drunk. There must be more discussion. Is it time to give it all up?

With its almost complete confinement to a single set and its constant stream of entrances and exits,Definitely Maybe plays out much like an absurdist play. The Strugatsky Brothers channel Eugene Ionesco. Every action is full of import, but there is no apparent cause for the pressure the characters feel. This is the sort of satire that could pass Soviet censorship. What must have been read with the thrill that accompanies the almost contraband at the time, today comes off as black comedy. There are many laughs, even as one character sinks into so deep a depression he is found sitting morosely on the steps, the first character paralyzed by the situation, whatever that situation is.

Conspiracy theories abound. "How do you expect to explain fantastic events without a fantastic hypothesis?" The proposition of Occam's razor is bruited but soon gives way to the more logical thought that a super advanced civilization has earth in its purview, and knows that this research, despite its apparently disparate fields will have dire consequences in the scheme of things over the next billion years. A billion years may seem like a long time, but as one character observes, "A great deal can happen in a billion years."

Malianov makes truly excellent tea. Everyone will have another cup.