Content Note: sexism
Engineer Mstislav Sergeyevich Los designed a new type of rocket that he is sure will be able to take him to Mars. He finds soldier Alexei Gusev for a travel companion and together they set off. They actually make it to Mars which they find inhabited. Los tries to learn about Martian society mostly through Aelita, the daughter of the Martian leader Toscoob. Meanwhile Gusev finds himself quickly involved in the local politics.
Aelita is mostly interesting to read from a historical perspective, I think – as a SciFi classic. For modern readers it is a little tough to read sometimes (the sexism, ugh), and sometimes involuntarily funny, but if you like the genre, it is definitely interesting to take a look at the beginnings of modern SciFi.
Aelita is a SciFi classic reminiscent of Burroughs’ Barsoom series (I wonder whether Tolstoy read it or if it was a coincidence). The way Mars is a desert planet here definitely shares similarities with John Carter’s Mars. And, having never read Burroughs, I will just assume that the sexism is another trait they share. In any case, there was a lot in Aelita that reminded me of more modern SciFi works, so its legacy is on-going for sure.
It is kind of fun to see what kind of science Aelita relies on. For example, it takes into account the theory of relativity (even if in a rather simplified form), but at the same time it posits that, of course, Mars has a (humanly) breathable atmosphere and basically it’s like any desert on Earth with slightly uncomfortable, but passable temperatures. Both were, as far as I know, the latest science at the time, but from today’s perspective there is something slightly ridiculous about the juxtaposition as the theory of relativity stood the test of time (so far. Also: no pun intended), while we now know that Mars is really nothing like this.
Less fun is the sexism portrayed in the novel that had me sighing more than once. Even considering the time it was written in, it was pretty bad. That, and the unfortunately not great translation, made reading the novel much more of a chore than I had hoped.
Still, there is something compelling about Aelita, especially for fans of the genre as we can explore some of the roots and see how they still play out today.
Summarizing: for die hard SciFi fans.