I got this book as a gift and I was happy to get it; my reading of Soviet era science fiction has been nonexistent. This book is now my new standard for judging the “genre mashups” I read from now on. The book really is everything that Jeff VanderMeer promises it is in his introduction. It’s all here: shades of mystery, hints of the occult, and a bit of science fiction (some of which brought R.A. Lafferty to mind). A little surrealism and magical realism too, but with a twist. I loved how the Brothers Strugatsky almost always had a rational narrative explanation… which the reader is free to accept or reject.
There’s so much delicious meta in the book, too. In one scene, the main character breaks into a fellow guest’s room thinking, “I did this just like a hero in a spy thriller would have — I didn’t know how else to do it.” Meta is the book’s mission statement, in a way. It’s theme is how “The unknown makes us think — it makes our blood run a little quicker and gives rise to various delightful trains of thought. It beckons, it promises. It’s like a fire flickering in the depths of the night.” And, it’s a warning that, “You’re following the most natural roads, and for that reason you’ve ended up in unnatural places.” It’s elements like these, and the timelessness of the story’s setting that allows this 1970 novel to age well.