Ivan Antonovich (Antipovich) Yefremov (also spelled Efremov), (1908-1972), was a famous Russian Speculative Fiction writer, a noted paleontologist, a sailor, and a social thinker. Born in 1908 in a timber merchant family, he had a pretty rough childhood. During Romanovs and Revolutions his parents divorced, and his mother moved with him from Saint Petersburg to Kherson in Ukraine, where she met a Red Army commander, married him, and left her kids with an aunt. The said aunt soon died from typhus, and young Vanya (just 12 at the time) basically had to care for his siblings alone. He soon banded with a Red Army regiment and fought with them in the Crimean Campaign of the Russian Civil War. After the war ended, he moved to Saint Petersburg again to continue his education and completed the school in just three years. In 1922, sixteen at the time, he added a year to his age to enter the Merchant Marine Classes to study as a navigator, to complete them also in a record time.
He then sailed a couple of years in the Russian Far East, but in the end the scientific calling won over, and he soon enrolled to Leningrad University's Biology Department. There Yefremov specialized in paleontology, making his doctorate in 1935, and for a couple of decades divided his time between studies and expeditions. Experiences of this turbulent life gave them a lot of inspiration, and he turned to writing quite early. His first short stories, originally a simple adventure yarns, often based on his expeditions and his brief sea career, began to be published during the WWII, but he quickly started to add fantastic elements to them. After the war, Yefremov continued to pursue the scientific career, creating a new discipline in the modern paleontology — the so-called tafonomy, a study of how the fossils distributed in the earth — while his writing steadily became more grandiose and epic.
The Fifties became a major breakthrough for him, as in 1955 Yefremov completed his Magnum Opus, a sweeping epic Utopia called Andromeda Nebula (published in English as Andromeda: A Space Age Tale), where he not only managed to break the then entrenched (and governmentally encouraged) tradition of "near aim" in the Soviet SF, but has essentially set the milestones for the classless, moneyless, communist technocratic utopia that was rumored to inspire not only Soviet, but also Western authors. Yefremov, being a prodigy that he was, also knew a lot of languages and was very knowledgeable of the contemporary Western Sci Fi. He frequently disagreed with its themes, though, and often added not so subtle jabs about the pieces he was particularly unhappy with in his stories.
You see, being a prominent scientist and fundamental believer in that the Rousseau Was Right, Yefremov found the Humans Are Bastards trope and all its consequences distasteful in the extreme. He also was disturbed by the frequent antiscientism, which then started to appear not only in Western, but also in the Soviet society. He also became quite disillusioned with the Soviet society at laarge, and his next epic, The Bull's Hour, while on the surface criticizing the Chinese brand of "ant socialism", how he called it (the novel was completed in 1968, at the height of the Sino-Soviet Split), was close enough to home for the authorities to ban it days after the book was out.
After that, Yefremov turned to Historical Fiction. Early on he already published an adventure novel about Ancient Egypt-cum-Ancient Greece, At The Edge Of Ecumene and returned to the theme once more, in his last work, Thais of Athens, a story about historical haetera Thais, who was a companion of Alexander the Great and is famous for burning down the Persepolis. The novel, which basically fills up the gaps around known historical events, also features the most developed version of Yefremov's social Theory of Inferno, which he worked on for most of his life, first introduced in Andromeda Nebula and further discussed in his The Sixties novel Razor's Edge.
The key point of this theory is that the Nature is completely indifferent to the individual and is thus inherently endlessly cruel, and all natural processes (including spontaneous, uncontrolled processes in society) only serve to increase the suffering of the intelligent beings — a process he called "the circle of Inferno". He also predicted that the uncontrolled social processes will introduce the negative selection — essentially a moral version of The Peter Principle, where only the worst will come to the top. Only conscious, controlled and good-natured effort could break this vicious circle.
- Hellenic Secret — his first short story cycle, 1942-1944
- Star Ships — second short story cycle, 1945
- At The Edge Of Ecumene — Historical Fiction adventure novel, 1946-1959
- Great Ring cycle including
- Andromeda Nebula — a massive, sprawling utopia with some Space Opera themes, 1957
- The Snakes Heart - Nebula's related novella
- The Bulls Hour — Nebula's distant Sequel, a social critique, 1968
- Razor's Edge — another adventure novel, set in Present Day Present Time (that is, The Sixties), 1962
- Thais of Athens — Historical Fiction, with a healthy dose of adventure, 1972
His writing provides examples of these tropes:
- Action Girl: Aplenty. Yefremov was a staunch feminist and his works are chock full of strong, independent women.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: More correctly, aristocrats have much more potential to be evil.
- Author Tract: A frequent accusation leveled at him, and not entirely baseless. Especially in Andromeda Nebula the writing sometimes becomes dry and illustrative, and characters may seem more like philosophical ideas rather than people.
- Author Filibuster: A consequence of the above.
- Casual Interstellar Travel: Averted. In most of his works interstellar travel is a big deal, given that it's usually Slower Than Light.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: With much moderation. In the Andromeda's Universe, for example, it was developed very late into the franchise and is still a tricky and dangerous thing.
- Historical Fiction
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Arguably, the Author Appeal — Yefremov insisted that the women shouldn't be very tall.
- No Poverty: A cornerstone of his utopias.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Italian crew in Razor's Edge. Some of them do become True Companions, while other... don't.
- Rousseau Was Right: Yefremov was a great believer in the inherent goodness of man.
- Take That: His novella Cor Serpentis is essentially a one big Take That to Murray Leinster's First Contact.
- Treasure Hunt: The Italians' motivation in Razor's Edge, who plan to (illegally, or at least illicitly) prospect for diamonds on the shores of South Africa. They are also quite successful at that.
- At the Edge of Ecumene also features several, as well as real hunts.
- ↑ In the original Marxist sense, not what Westerners came to think what it is.