When young programmer Alexander Ivanovich Privalov picks up two hitchhikers while driving in Karelia, he is drawn into the mysterious world of the National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy, where research into magic is serious business.
And where science, sorcery and socialism meet, can chaos be far behind?
The Strugatsky brothers are best known by English-reading SF fans for the novel Roadside Picnic, but this delightful 1964 fantasy-comedy remains their most popular work in Russia, and it's easy to see why. Sasha Privalov, a young computer programmer, visits the small town of Solovets for a holiday and gets swept into a new job at what turns out to be the National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy (or NITWiT). His adventures are a charming and loving parody of both Soviet institutional culture and earlier fantasy and SF novels, including The Time Machine and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Merlin is the aggravating guy who has office seniority and keeps talking about his vacation, the managing director is discontinuous in time, and Baba Yaga's hut is part of the official state thaumaturgical museum. But this is a real fantasy novel as well as a satire, and readers will have no trouble believing that Koschei the Deathless really is chained up in NITWiT's basement. Bromfield's masterly translation manages to preserve layered language such as the joke in the Institute's acronym, and Yevgeniy Migunov's illustrations are witty, friendly, and allusive. This melding of bureaucracy and the numinous is highly enjoyable and impossible to compare to any other work.