Prisoners of Power

Prisoners of Power

Infobox Book |
name = Prisoners of Power
title_orig = Обитаемый остров
translator = Helen Saltz Jacobson

image_caption =
author = Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = Soviet Union
language = Russian
series = Noon Universe
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = Macmillan
release_date = 1971
english_release_date = 1977
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages =
isbn = ISBN 0-02-615160-X
preceded_by = Disquiet
followed_by = Space Mowgli

"Prisoners of Power" also known as "Inhabited Island" ( _ru. Обитаемый остров, pronounced|obɪˈtaʲemɨj ˈostrof) is a science fiction novel written by Soviet authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. It was written in 1969 and originally published in 1971, the English translation was released in 1977. The protagonist is a young adventurer from EarthMaxim Kammerer who gets stranded on an unknown planet Saraksh.

Book setting

The novel is set in the 22nd century of the Noon Universe. Mankind is the prevalent race in the Galaxy, capable of interstellar travel. Human social organization is presumably Communist, and can be described as a highly technologically advanced anarchistic meritocracy. Fact|date=February 2008

There is no state structure, no institutionalized coercion (no police etc.), yet functioning of the society is safeguarded by raising everyone as responsible individuals, with guidance of a set of High Councils accepted by everyone in each particular field of activity.

It is a society of highly morally evolved individuals that has solved all of its material problems, knows no crime, feels no threats (except possibly from unchecked scientific exploration) and spends much of its efforts in scientific research (space exploration done mostly by amateurs), arts, education and caring for the young. Teachers are the most honorable profession.

One of the controversial occupations is progressor. They are agents embedded in less advanced humanoid civilizations in order to accelerate their development or resolve their problems. Progressors' methods range from rescuing local scientists and artists to overthrowing local governments.

Plot summary

The story describes the adventures of Maxim Kammerer. Kammerer is an amateur space explorer from Earth. This occupation is not considered serious and Kammerer is regarded as a failure by his friends and relatives. The novel starts when Kammerer accidentally discovers an unexplored planet Saraksh inhabited by a humanoid race. The level of technological development on the planet is similar to mid-20th century Earth. Recently, the planet had a nuclear and conventional war and the predicament of the population is dire. When Kammerer lands, the natives mistake his spaceship for a weapon and destroy it.

At first, Kammerer does not take his situation seriously. He imagines himself a Robinson Crusoe stranded on an island inhabited by primitive but friendly natives. He is looking forward to establishing contact and befriending the population of the planet. However, the reality turns out to be far from glamorous. Kammerer finds himself in the capital of a totalitarian state, perpetually at war with its neighbors. The population is governed by the oligarchy of "Unknown Fathers" through brutal police and military repression. The city is grim and polluted. Ordinary populace leads the life of privation and misery. What goes on around Kammerer does not make sense to him, since his own society is free from war, crime and material shortages. Eventually, it is revealed that to maintain the loyalty of the population, the Fathers employ mind control broadcasts. The broadcast towers pepper the landscape of the country. The mind-altering capabilities of the towers are kept secret, they are disguised as ballistic missile defense installations. Constant broadcasts suppress the ability to evaluate information critically, hence making the omnipresent regime propaganda much more effective. In addition, twice a day, intense broadcasts relieve mental stress caused by the disconnect between the propaganda and the observed reality by inducing an outburst of blinding enthusiasm. The authors give a masterful description of this process at work, describing the thoughts of one of the characters as he switches from the state of peeved boredom and disdain for his superiors to the rapturous adoration of people around him and life in general.

A minority of the population are not susceptible to the broadcasts. In these people, the intense daily broadcasts induce horrible headache and seizures. The Unknown Fathers — the ruling oligarchs are in this minority. They pay for the power to control the people by intense personal suffering during the daily broadcasts. The people outside the power elite that are not susceptible to the broadcasts are branded degenerates or "degens" by the state. They are actively persecuted. When captured they are either executed or sent to prison. The renegade degens organized an underground resistance movement and try to fight back by destroying the broadcast towers. The resistance does not have any political or military program and the fighters are united mostly by their suffering and their hatred of the towers. However, the rank-and-file of the underground is unaware of the main purpose of the towers. Apparently, the underground leadership wants to capture the broadcast network and use it to seize the power in the state for themselves.

Kammerer, still not quite aware of the situation, gets enlisted in the military. He is required to execute captured degens. When he refuses, he is shot. Kammerer survives, joins the underground and participates in a futile attack on a broadcast tower. As he gradually pieces together the stark reality of the life on Saraksh, Kammerer makes it his mission to rid the planet of the mind control broadcast system. Several of his schemes fail because the cure may be worse than the disease. He tries to organize an invasion by barbarian tribes from the inhospitable desert in the South. He then tries to contact the state's neighbor — Island Empire. He abandons this plan after finding documents on a destroyed Empire submarine that describe mass killings and other atrocities that the Empire military perpetrates. He now focuses on trying to find and destroy the Control Center where the mind control broadcasts originate. Kammerer gets captured and is consigned to a penal battalion that is supposed to lead the invasion of the North. In this abortive action, most of his friends perish while Kammerer himself barely escapes annihilation in retaliatory nuclear blasts.

It turns out that Kammerer is not affected by the broadcasts in any way. A Father known as Smart realizes that and plots to use Kammerer to stage a coup and take over the power in the state. His plan is for Kammerer to capture the Control Center and use the mind control broadcasts to incapacitate the rivals and control the population. The Center is protected by intense local broadcasts that make it impossible for anyone but Kammerer to penetrate it. Initially, Kammerer plays along. However, after gaining access to the Center, instead of using it to gain power, Kammerer destroys it.

In the end of the novel it is revealed that one of the Fathers — Strannik - is a human progressor Rudolf Sikorski. Strannik was carefully preparing the operation to gradually improve the lot of the people of Saraksh. His plan was ruined by Kammerer's actions. Strannik catches Kammerer and lambastes him for his interference. Strannik describes the unanticipated consequences of Kammerer's rash actions: up to 20% of the people may die due to the withdrawal of the mind control transmissions on which they have become dependent; Saraksh faces famine, anarchy and invasion from the North. Strannik tells Kammerer to leave the planet. However, Kammerer refuses and stays to help Strannik stabilize the situation. Despite the upheavals that Saraksh has to go through, Kammerer is still glad he destroyed the Control Center because now the people are in charge of their own destiny.

Comments on "Inhabited Island"

"Inhabited Island" seems to portray an evil fascist society and a capitalist enemy of socialism. Yet in fact it is a thinly veiled satire of the Soviet regime itself. A suffocating, blunt inescapable propaganda, militarism, invention of external enemies to justify internal repression, disconnect between official statements and real life, the rule by faceless cliques of party bureaucrats who did not believe the official ideology themselves, prison camps to keep the malcontent and the rebellious, using penal battalions as shock troops, dreary life in polluted cities and faceless apartment blocks; all these elements of the novel were instantly recognizable by the inhabitants of the Soviet Union. The destruction of the Control Center becomes a prophetic metaphor, where the end of Soviet propaganda spells the collapse of the regime itself. The parallels were apparent to the Soviet censors. The publication was allowed but a large number of cosmetic changes was required. The censors attempted to make the setting feel less identifiably Soviet. The modern military ranks (lieutenant, major) were replaced with archaic or made up ones (brigadier). The "Unknown Fathers" were changed to "All-Powerful Creators". The government posts became identifiably German (Chancellor, Baron). The internal security troops were renamed from "Guard" (which was similar to the name of the elite units of the Soviet army) to the decidedly non-Russian "Legion". The people from Earth: Maxim Rostislavsky and Pavel Grigorievitch became Maxim Kammerer and Rudolf Sikorski. In the editions of the novel after Perestroika many of these redactions were undone. However, a few remained. For example, Maxim Kammerer already figured in several other novels of this cycle.

Planned sequel

According to Boris Strugatsky's later reminiscences [ [ Борис Стругацкий. Комментарии к пройденному (журнальный вариант)] ] , the Strugatsky brothers were planning to write the sequel to "Inhabited Island". However, following the death of Arkady Strugatsky, the surviving brother felt that he could not bring himself to write the novel. The novel should have been named "White Ferz" ("Белый Ферзь"). Ferz or Vazir - Russian term for Queen in chess, which have male gender in Russian. Novel should have followed the story of infiltration of the Maxim Kammerer, now a progressor, into the heart of the Island Empire.

Island empire should have been shown as consisting of several social "circles". While the outer circle represents fascist militaristic society, the middle circle is a peaceful liberal society, and the inner core is highly developed harmonic society of intellectuals, similar to Noon Universe Earth. Special social apparatus directs each citizen of the Empire according to his personality to the circle where he belongs.

The book would have shown that this cruel social selection of the Island Empire is the more (or even the only) realistic way for a social utopia to exist, and by contrast would doubt if the Noon Universe's Earth is realistically possible, so much so that it is actually suggested to Maxim by one of the leaders of Inner Circle (when he finally makes contact with them) that his "Earth" is really an imaginary world, some literary invention impossible to have existed in the real world (serving as the authors' final judgement upon their own creation).


There have been announced three PC games based on the novel: adventure game ' developed by Step Creative Group, strategy "Galactic Assault" developed by WarGaming [] and first-person shooter ' by Orion Games.

A motion picture adaptation is currently being shot in Russia. []

English editions

The English translation is based on the censored version of the novel, as the original version was unavailable to the translator.

# Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. "Prisoners of Power (Best of Soviet Science Fiction)" translated by Helen Saltz Jacobson. New York: Macmillan Pub Co, August, 1977, 286 pp. ISBN 0-02-615160-X. LCCN: 77005145.
# Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. "Prisoners of Power" translated by Helen Saltz Jacobson. New York: Collier Books, 1978, 286 pp. ISBN 0-02-025580-2.
# Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. "Prisoners of Power". London: Gollancz, 1978. ISBN 0-575-02545-X.
# Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris. "Prisoners of Power". Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd, July 28, 1983, 320 pp. ISBN 0-14-005134-1.


Interestingly, the suggestive names of some of the characters such as Strannik (Wanderer) and Vepr (Wild Boar) were not translated into English.

In the English translation by Jacobson, when Kammerer asks Strannik what his real name is, Strannik replies "call me Ernst". In the original, Strannik calls himself Rudolf which points to Strannik's real identity as progressor Rudolf Sikorski who figures in other books of the Noon Universe. Apparently, the translator was unfamiliar with this character, considered Rudolf to be an arbitrary name, and changed it to Ernst. Thus, the connection between Strannik and Rudolf Sikorski is lost in translation. This could also be due to the fact that the translation is based on the original, censored version of the novel, where the Wanderer's name was indeed Ernst.


External links

* [ Read "Prisoners of Power" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky] on the
* [ Read "Prisoners of Power" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky] on the Perm mirror of Maxim Moshkow Library.

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