Though it’s often called a novel, Noon: 22nd Century is really a collection of stories, bound together by shared characters and settings. In this future, humanity has colonized the moon, Mars, and Venus, and explorers have ventured beyond the solar system to planets like Pandora, a densely forested world whose life-forms are not fully understood. (The Strugatskys’ jungle-planet was a possible inspiration for James Cameron’s Avatar.) Although contact with intelligent alien life hasn’t yet been made, its existence is confirmed thanks to abandoned satellites and other artifacts of an advanced civilization. Most significant, the Noon Universe, as it came to be known, is a world in which socialism has won out over other forms of economic and political organization, leading to universal equality and material wellbeing.
Yet Noon: 22nd Century is more than just an optimistic projection of a forty-something five-year plan. Despite its projection of socialist victory over capitalism, the book isn’t propaganda for the Soviet Union but a set of compassionate stories about characters struggling for scientific and personal fulfillment. As in the Star Trek universe, which the Noon Universe somewhat resembles, humanity has survived its internal crises, but still has discoveries to make and problems to solve. Conflict in the Noon Universe takes place “between the good and the better,” instead of between good and evil forces. Rather than being a stiff work of agitprop, Noon: 22nd Century is a hopeful reminder of why the Soviet promise was so attractive to begin with.