Teaching British and American SF at the Far Eastern State University, Vladivostok

Yuri Mironets

Yuri Mironets is a Professor of English at Russia’s Far Eastern University in Vladivostok (which -- to the surprise of some of us -- the UK Post Office counts as being in Europe). His love of Science Fiction is only surpassed by his dedication to his job as, like many academics and Russian public sector employees, his professional work has for the past year largely been voluntary due to the difficulties of Russia’s economic transition.

It is no secret that British and American science fiction and fantasy, with a few exceptions, was practically prohibited by the former communist Soviet Union. Asimov, Bradbury and just a dozen others were the western SF writers whose books were translated into Russian and published in the Soviet Union, and even those translations were extremely difficult to obtain.

Now the situation has changed radically. Trying to fill the gap, various publishing houses flooded the Russian book market with SF translations (often of rather doubtful quality) by British and US authors. In order to help young readers not to drown in this flood, and to aquaint them with the best of contemporary SF, I run a course of lectures in anglophone SF and fantasy at the English Language Department at the Far Eastern University in Vladivostok, Russia. The course has been approved by the Faculty's Council and is proceeding well.

I cannot help expressing my gratitude to the person who encouraged me in this endeavour. The starting point was September 11, 1992 and the place was the small town of Moscow, Idaho, in the US. I was among a small group of professors on a one month exchange to the Washington State University in Pullman, taking an intensive course in American English. As I have been a devoted fan of SF since my childhood, I tried to get in contact with local SF fans. Fortunately there was a group of fans in Pullmann who welcomed me.

Yet again, fortunately for me (or was it providence?) at that time there was a local SF convention taking place in the nearby town of Moscow, Idaho. It was called MosCon XIV and there I got acquainted with a wonderful person, Verna Smith Trestrail, daughter of the legendary writer E. E. Doc Smith. We were attracted to each other as if by a magnet and this charming lady had a great influence on my life. We talked a lot and Verna told me about her father and his works. The informal, relaxed and cordial atmosphere of the convention impressed me greatly and at that moment I decided to try popularising English-language SF among Russian students. On returning to Vladivostok I began preparing lectures in SF. Verna helped greatly, sending me SF books and encyclopaedias, and SF fans from Pullman, especially Bea Taylor, contributed greatly to my library. To the greatest grief of all who knew her, Verna Smith Trestrail died of heart failure in 1994.

Now my SF course modules are progressing. This year they were extended, and now they run, two hours a week, the length of the academic year. The course is for third year students and is taught to about 40, 90% of whom are female aged 20-21 -- a characteristic of foreign language courses. The attendance of students at my lectures is quite good -- I think it is because the students find some release from their troubles and worries of everyday life. There are also several students writing their research and diploma papers on SF writers and their works. The results are encouraging. For instance one of the students is writing her diploma on Harry Harrison's 'Eden' trilogy. When I wrote to Harry Harrison about this he became interested and even asked for a copy of the student's dissertation; this greatly encouraged the student and I think she will produce a good paper.

The contacts by correspondence with British, American, Canadian, and Australian SF and fantasy writers has helped me greatly and immensely broadened my SF horizons.

In conclusion I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to those SF writers and fans, without whose help my lectures might well have been impossible. British SF writer David Compton sent the invaluable John Clute & Peter Nicholls Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction; books and various other biographical materials have been sent by: Brian Stableford; Michael Bishop; Fred Saberhagen; Robert Holdstock; Ian Watson; Anne McCaffery, John Morressy; Tanith Lee; Gary Kilworth; Barrington Bayley; Brian Aldiss; Michael Coney; Roger Zelazny; C. J. Cherryh; Colin Greenland; Simon Green; James Hogan; Jack Williamson; Timothy Zahn; John Cristopher; Gwyneth Jones; Iain Banks; David Wingrove; Chris Evans; Terry Pratchett; Paul McAuley; Lionel Fanthorpe; Spider Robinson; Kim Stanley Robinson; Connie Willis; Brian Daley; Lois McMaster Bujold; Alan Dean Foster; Andre Norton; Freerik Pohl; Larry Niven; Dean Koontz; Marion Zimmer Bradley; Vonda McIntyre; Julian May; Gene Wolfe; Alexi and Cory Pashin; Jacqueline Lichtenberg; Jerry Pournelle; Jane Yolen; John Smith; Gene DeWeese; Hal Clement; Jack Dann; Chelsea Quinn Yarbro; Norman Spinrad; Christopher Priest; Suzey McKee Charnas; Arthur C Clarke; James Gunn; Ardath Mayhar; Isidere Hailblum; Ron MacKelworth; William Gibson; Suzette Haden Elgin; Zach Hughes; Kenneth Bulmer; Ray Nelson; Dean Ing; Lee Killough; Michael Foster; Colin Wilson; Thomas M Disch; E.C Tubb; Joanna Russ; Trevor Hoyle; Robert Sheckley; Gregory Benford; Jerry Oltion; Jerry Carver; Vernor Vinge; Joseph Green; James White; Michael Moorcock; Robert Forward; Robert Sawyer; James Herbert; William John Watkins; Ben Bova; Barry Longyear; Lawrence Watt-Evans; Sheila Finch; Damien Broderick; Ramsey Campbell; T Jackson King; Poul Anderson; Rob Chilson; Kevin Anderson; Lloyd Biggle jr and John Dalmas.

I treasure my letter from Bob Shaw in which he called me 'my friend'; thanks to David Langford I have quite a number of various issues of Ansible; Steve Sneyd opened for me the world of SF poetry; and Jonathan Cowie has provided the course with books and made possible the publishing of this article. In addition, the former President of the American Fantasy Fan Federation, Catherin Mintz has helped with books, while Robert and Juanita Coulson's letters have described various local SF conventions they have attended, and Vikki Lee France informed me in detail about Storm Constantine's works and the activities of Inception. Lastly, an unknown fan -- David McGuirr has sent audio cassettes of SF radio plays.

The time has come to open an SF library at the university and the Dean of English Language has promised to help. So maybe, in one or two years, this next step can be realised...

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