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May/June 2013
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Bull's Hour, by Ivan Yefremov (1968)

TO ANY scholar of Soviet literature, two words are intimately familiar: "Samizdat," self-publishing, referring not to .mobi files but to faded carbons of painstakingly retyped manuscripts; and "Tamizdat," "there-publishing," works printed abroad and smuggled back. Ivan Yefremov stands as an example of the third path to intellectual honesty in the era of pervasive censorship, a path well-traveled by Russian writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: outsmarting the censors.

On the surface, Bull's Hour (serialized 1968, separate edition 1970) is an indictment of Western capitalism and Chinese hegemonism: the names of the evil oligarchs of the oppressed planet and of its social institutions are mixtures of crypto-English and quasi-Chinese. But the criticism of this tyranny from the viewpoint of the evolved, enlightened future Earth society is far more universal:

"When…a state is discovered that blocks the way to knowledge for its people, such a state is destroyed. This is the only case that gives the right to interfere in the affairs of another planet…the prohibition to learn about arts, sciences, life on other planets, is unacceptable."

It took two years after the story's magazine appearance for the Soviet socio-literary apparat to see in Bull's Hour what Tsar Nicholas I had seen in Gogol's "Inspector General" at its premiere, and to collectively exclaim: "At whom are you laughing? At yourselves you are laughing!" In a 1975 posthumous collection of Yefremov's works it is neither included nor mentioned, achieving the status of an un-book. I had read it in a public library in Kislovodsk during the summer of 1971; shortly thereafter I tried to find it in Lvov, only to be informed that Yefremov never wrote a novel by that name.

—Anatoly Belilovsky

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