Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mutants in the fog

I spent a couple of weeks in November in Northern Germany, under the customary dark skies, with cold rainy days of fog and and thick clouds impenetrable to sunlight. I found it a good occasion to read a French translation of the novel "Les mutants du brouillard" written by the Strugatsky brothers. I found the book in a second hand bookstore in Marseille a few months ago, but the sunlight of Southern France in late summer did not seem appropriate for the reading.

The story is set in an unsepcified provincial town in Russia, under a totalitarian state which is not and yet visibly is the Soviet Union. In the secrecy that surrounds matters of policy and power, a medical facility has been built in town to host the increasingly large number of people affected by a strange disease, possibly a mutation. Their bodies affected by a sort of leprosy, these "rain people" also seem to be mysteriously responsible for a climatic change that brought incessant rain over the region. They feed on the reading of books, which are as necessary to them as food is to ordinary humans. Looked upon with suspicion and more often than not made the object of outright discrimination by the adult population of the small town, the rain people develop a close relation with the local teenagers. Under their influence children reach an astonishing intellectual maturity in their early teens and eventually decide to leave their parents behind and embark, together with this new brand of humanity in the construction of a new world. The mystery remains intact to the very end, nothing is revealed, no cheap solutions are offered. Human relations are subtle and complicated and so is the twisted reality of the mutants. Excellent storytelling by the masters of Soviet science fiction.