Pictured are the editorial staff of Biblioteka Galaktika, former award winning science-fiction book imprint in Bulgaria. They were the only Eastern Bloc publishers distributing translations of Western authors like Robert Heinlein, Ursula Le Guin, and Ray Bradbury.


Milen Asadurov reports that he wanted to include Konstantinova on the editorial board but she was working at the University of Krakow at the time. Dilov told him, "Don't they have mail in Krakow? Don't they have planes? Elka is in!"

preface to The Weight of the Spacesuit (1969 edition)

Elka Konstantinova



TRANSLATION NOTES:

* gray literature - SF was still very much seen by academia as an ‘outsider’ in the 1960’s. ‘Gray’ has a similar meaning in the term ‘gray economy’


* from Lem’s Solaris (1961)

Lyuben Dilov’s book The Weight of the Spacesuit is a clear success not only for the author but also for all our(Bulgarian) contemporary science-fiction literature. Moreover, it is in precisely this area of ​​our fiction that the gray* channels most often struggle. Scientific issues invade there like an unleashed river threatening to drown human problems and eliminate plot, image, and stylistic diversity in this relatively new genre. A significant part of our science-fiction works still has cybernetic beings on patrol, electronic brains giving orders, and the most highly technical miracles being performed. Sensational scientific innovations often displace the tracing of modern human destinies, turning the well-rounded socialist identity into some kind of cosmic invention. Descriptions of all kinds of machines, copious laboratory data, special scientific and technical terminology, such shortcomings in this new literary genre would all clog the works and inevitably erode the artistic in The Weight of the Spacesuit. Lyuben Dilov’s novel is a complete, full-fledged contemporary work, written cleverly, seriously, with a skillful usage of science-fiction elements to deepen the philosophical-ethical conflicts. The author tackles mainly psychological tasks and is completely alien to the pursuit of impartial and meticulous scientific documentation and to self-serving, adventure-crime story effects. His view is concentrated on the interior of the starship, over the experiences of the nine Earth men. They live in feverish anticipation of contact with another civilization, discussing and assessing issues crucial not only to their expedition but to all humanity. Dilov has succeeded in concentrating on a few of his characters’ most important philosophical puzzles, the solutions to which determine their intellectual and spiritual reactions. He doesn’t waste on extraneous things, he isn’t distracted by questions outside the field of view of his cosmonauts, and he turns their every thought into an active beginning, into an active component, a part of a harmonious, deeply human philosophy. In the complex relationship between the individual and the cosmos, the author emphasizes that which preserves the noble, ethical, and moral in humankind and nourishes their eternal pursuit of the unknown and the unattainable. Long detached from their own planet, humankind retains this essence in outer space despite the deep psychic upheavals, despite the horrifying cosmic loneliness, despite the weight of the spacesuit... The vast stock of knowledge, cosmic masculinity, and thought don’t turn Dilov’s heroes into superhumans; on the contrary, some virtues seem to be even more strongly developed: the painful sense of responsibility and duty, dreaminess, self-sacrifice. Specific civilizations define a specific human being which prolonged contact with space cannot modify and distort, and the author is mainly interested in their dimensions. Every moment of the months spent in space, nearing another inhabited planet, is filled with a superhuman strain of mental and intellectual forces until the moment of direct contact with the other civilization. Then the characters are in a tense, feverish state with the human brain working at full capacity and maximum energy expenditure, the senses and emotional reactions sharpened to the limit. In such supreme moments, the human essence manifests itself most fully and dramatically. This statement in Lyuben Dilov’s work is argumentative and emotionally influential, especially in some of his characters: Daal, Monida, the doctor… It’s no coincidence that Daal becomes a victim of cruel cosmic laws - he’s the most delicately arranged, the most helpless in his infinite frankness and kindness.

Lyuben Dilov’s stimulating reflections about the fate of humans torn from their native Earth and sent out into the cosmos are found in the most concrete artistic realizations: the heuristicist Monida; Korel, the cybernetic linguist; the cheerful, witty Veyo; the planetologist Kramer; and the overly serious Coordinator. The story is told at all times by the youngest member of the space team: the doctor who was born on the starship and doesn’t know the beauties of Earth. The mental confusion, anxiety, and distrust that temporarily grip him are due in part to his inexperience and detachment from the bosom of Earth even though Earth does live on in him and in his normal human perceptions. The novel is the diary of a young doctor, and this form of frank confession enhances the intimacy and warmth of the experience in the soulless and cold atmosphere, far from the home planet.

The success of the novel lies in the psychological tension of the impending encounter between humankind and other intelligent beings, in the re-creation of the various human stages through which the intellectual and emotional arousal of the nine characters passes, in the deepening of their dialectical thinking. Lyuben Dilov analyzes various human notions about legal and ethical categories such as heroism, loyalty, camaraderie, solidarity, and self-sacrifice as understood and realized by intellectually developed and spiritually perfected individuals. Above all, the psychological peculiarities, the individual differences of the characters, stands out. Especially the exceptional analytical ability of their minds, which different characters manifest in different shades. The manifestations of these analytical abilities are an inexhaustible source of pleasure and enjoyment for the characters themselves who are able to digest them to varying degrees. The triumph of the mind is active and therefore brings real satisfaction. Here lies the advantage of Lyuben Dilov’s characters over a number of characters from Western science-fiction works who, in such situations, fall into complete despair and resignation. The philosophical and psychological reasoning of Lyuben Dilov’s reflections about humankind and the cosmos, about human motives in their search for new civilizations, and the true meaning of human activity in space, draws closer to the works of Ivan Efremov, Stanislav Lem, the Strugatsky brothers… alongside the best representatives of the science-fiction genre in contemporary socialist-realist literature. The socio-philosophical essence of his conflicts is another connection with the models of today’s science fiction. Lyuben Dilov’s characters demonstrate their abilities, the exceptional possibilities of their minds, unraveling unsolvable mysteries, giving a correct answer to the most intricate intellectual riddles. Practical results, the fruit of methodical, thoughtful research, have always been the true expression of creative fever. When the ominous voice of the linguist cyborg repeats in a nightmarish sequence the irrevocable command of the unknown living beings: “Go away! Go away! If you do not leave, we will destroy you..!” the passionate, creative researcher inside the cosmonauts is even more inflamed. Humankind’s desire to assert itself, to be recognized by mastering the universe, is stronger than the freezing horror of cosmic obscurity. Unfortunately, the psychological pressure and the dramatics of the intellects and their scientific-creative search significantly decreases from the moment of the encounter which disappoints with its ordinary course as a simple exchange of information. Actually, contact with other intelligent beings has always disappointed readers (The only exception to date is Stanislav Lem’s Ocean*).

Lyuben Dilov’s aim to move our thoughts and engage our attention through the destinies of his characters and to discuss a number of questions concerning humans in space has been successfully fulfilled. He succeeds in extracting a few everyday values that are so common in our life that they go unnoticed, but because they’re shown on a cosmic scale, evaluated through cosmic perspectives, they take on a new value, a generalized, deeply philosophical meaning. The burden of the modern human’s vast contemporary scientific knowledge, the perfected spiritual structure of the modern human, their sophisticated range of reactions, their rich mental and psychic abilities. Dilov reveals all of this in cosmic dimensions, symbolically presenting them as a spacesuit, the equipment with the most sophisticated means of communication and defense, the weight of which oppresses them, torments them, weighs them down… just like the enormous responsibility that humanity takes on, daring to penetrate the secrets of space. But thanks to this spacesuit, humankind will become the lord of the universe, will establish contact with other civilizations, and will find “their place on the ladder of cosmic evolution”, to quote the great conscientious scientist and academic G. Haan. And that’s what Lyuben Dilov discusses in his new novel.