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The protagonist, Maxim Kammerer, is stranded on the After the End Crapsack World of Saraksh, where the atmosphere has such enormous optical refraction, that the horizon seems to bend upwards. After an atomic war, the planet is divided into several surviving rump empires. And all of them seem to be competing over who can be the most evil. The empire where he lands practices Mind Control on the unwashed masses and Fantastic Racism against those who can withstand their Mind Control methods. At first Maxim seems a bit of a Fish Out of Temporal Water, just trying to get back home and unable to comprehend the nature of what's happening around him, taking the propoganda at face value. He proceeds to uncover the truth and tries to improve the situation. How well he succeeds is debatable.
Various Action Adventure tropes are played with and deconstructed, including but not limited to Mighty Whitey (the locals are white, but certainly savage compared to the protagonist, who is tan due to sunburn), No Endor Holocaust (averted), and What the Hell, Hero?.
There are three versions of the novel - the original (all but impossible to find), the censored version (896 corrections) approved by the Soviet government (the basis for all official foreign translations) and the 'restored' version that returns lot of original ideas, but left some successful ones (the only version still in print). A movie adaptation premiered in Russia in December 2008. It has received rather poor reviews.
Tropes found in the novel:
- Alien Sky: Saraksh's skyline must look really bizzare to a Terran. The atmosphere's chemical composition results in TOTAL lack of clear skies (number of times when sun was clearly seen is counted in one-digit number), and somehow distorts optics to the point where the planet's surface appears concave instead of convex, making it seem as if the planet is actually the interior of a giant bubble. It's pretty bad when you consider it prevented the planet's inhabitants from developing any kind of cultural concept about the existence of a universe outside their world.
- Badass Grandpa: The statesman known as "The Wild Boar".
- Bullet Time: One of Kammerer's abilities.
- Cool Plane: The "Mountain Eagle" bomber.
- That's His Imperial Highness Prince Kirnu's Personal "Mountain Eagle" Bomber With Four Golden Colours to you, private!
- Based on giant planes of the time, mostly ANT-20.
- Diesel Punk: Saraksh's aesthetic hat.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Center for Mind Control is located at The TV Central Studio. Additionall redistribution of the signals by Towers is exactly how TV translation worked in USSR. And of course, the Towers are useless without regular propaganda.
- The Empire: All four of them, both in the literal and tropey sense. One of them seems to be more democratic, but...
- Go Mad From the Revelation: What happens to the less stable of the mind-controlled population if they don't receive dose of tower's radiation.
- Also, to some degree, to Maxim: when he discovered that Wanderer is German.
- Human Aliens: two races are native to Saraksh. One is this (and in this book, we only see them). The other is the Headies (Golovans), who are Intelligent Gerbils in appearance but quite Starfish Aliens in mindset.
- It Got Worse: You Crapsack World isn't bad enough? Let's start a second nuclear war!
- La Résistance: A certain percentage of people have innate Psychic Block Defense against the mind towers' rays. Said rays, however, cause them horrible head pain. On this account, they are officially declared sub-human and ruthlessly persecuted, the true reason for which being, of course, that they are the only ones who have enough free will to topple the government. Even they, however, have fallen prey to apathy, lack of planning and extremism. The heads of state are actually this exact kind of people, who just managed to grab viable power in time. Even they suffer from their own mind rays and have scientists relentlessly working on protection - to little effect. Some of resistance members are even recruited by leaders when they need replacement.
- Left for Dead: Granted, he's been shot several times to vital organs and a headshot barely missed.
"Massaraksh, just the bullet to the liver should have been more than enough!"
- Literary Allusion Title: The original title was a play off Robinson Crusoe. Like Crusoe, Maxim is stranded on an unknown island, but this island is all but uninhabited.
- Schizo-Tech: Sarakshians have roughly World War II level tech and science, but their astronomical knowledge and worldview are practically at a prehistoric level due to the above mentioned atmospheric phenomenon. That also made them unable to work out normal flight physics and aviation is almost non-existent. However, they have achieved remarkable progress in nuclear physics and neurological sciences.
- The Lost Woods: One of the major locations of the book is a huge forest that was once a battlefield for two of the states. By the time of the story, it is filled with minefields, spring guns, autonomous tanks and ballastic missile launchers, most still running on nuclear power and carrying out their patrols. The state, where most of the books story takes place, sends convicts into the forest to disarm the machinery, essentially making the convict camps throughout the woods death camps.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Destroying the Centre, ruining the plan to save the country, not following safety instructions when making planet sweep to begin with.
- Putting on the Reich: The remaining empires, especially the one that becomes the main antagonist of the novel.
- Trailers Always Spoil: To a ridiculous extent in the case of the recent movie adaptation. Advertisings for it spoil every major plot point (including the Twist Ending).
- Twist Ending
- Unusual Euphemism: "Massaraksh", literally "the world inside out" - refering to a heretical theory, according to which life as they know it exists on the outer surface of the world sphere, rather than the inner surface.
- War Is Hell: In the process of invading another state, the protagonist, his friend, and several other convicts are forced to steer outdated tanks towards the border so the nuclear mines along it are set off, making it safe for the professional army to roll through.
- Wham! Line: "Dumkopf! Rotznase!"
- Zero-Percent Approval Rating: Averted. The government is oppressive, highly corrupt and very incompetent, but still totally approved by the citizens - thank to Mind Control.