You can’t hardly get more international than a story originally written in Russia and in Russian, translated into Esperanto and published for a second time in an Esperanto magazine based in Sweden and edited by a Hungarian, and subsequently into English by an American. Dr. Ludwig Zamenhof, the peace-loving eye-doctor who devised Esperanto as a means of increasing understanding among peoples of diverse languages, would be proud. The literary magazine Norda Prismo (North Prism) of Stockholm described Zhuravleva Valentina as a “Soviet engineeress [who] has written many fantasy-scientific stories.” Starluma Rapsodio was translated into Esperanto by Alexi I. Vershinin of Odessa (which, come to think of it, raises the possibility that Ukrainian, and not Russian, was its first language). So much for the linguistic provenance and progress of the story. As for the story itself—scientifically, it is intriguing; but it presents not only an intellectual appeal, it says something to and about the emotions as well. And we find in it, in these troubled times, a note of hope, too. Asked to point out the star Procyon, the astronomer Jungovoskaya replies that it is “There beyond the neighbors’ house, to the right.” This is, not the language of pure science. It is the language of the heart—and this, after all, is more international even than Esperanto.
THE WEATHER ON THAT NEW Year’s Eve was peaceful, which is an uncommon occurrence. The clouds that had hung over the city only the day before were slowly spreading apart, like the curtain in a theater, and uncovering the starry sky.
The fir trees stood straight and unmoving, silvered with snow, like an honor-guard waiting for the New Year, along the. Kremlin wall. From time to time a weak gust of wind pushed a handful of snowflakes away from their branches, showering them down onto the passersby.
But people took no notice of the night’s charm. They were in too much of a hurry. In half an hour the New Year would arrive. The flow of people, noisy and excited, loaded down with packages and packets, moved faster and faster.
Only one person seemed not to be in a hurry. His hands were shoved deep into the pockets of his overcoat; attentive eyes glimmered from under the rim of his soft hat. Many people from the human flood recognized his lean face and short grey beard. For that reason he had turned off into a side street. There he did not need to respond to the numberless greetings, nor explain to his acquaintances why he preferred to wander on the streets during the New Year’s night. The poet Constantine Alexeëvitch Rusanov could not have said what unknown power was forcing him to seek solitude in the New Year evening. He felt no desire to think about poetry. Perhaps that was sad, because this New Year was the sixtieth of Rusanov’s life.
Rusanov moved on, fixedly listening to the grinding of snow under his soles. Beside a street-lamp post he suddenly found that his way was barred by a snow-castle, whose turret shimmered with snowy diamonds under the electric street-light.
“Unfinished,” he thought, noticing a child’s sled and shovel lying nearby. Suddenly he was struck by an absurd desire to finish the fortress wall. That would really be a New Year’s Morning surprise for the children.
Rusanov leaned over to pick up the tiny shovel, but at that moment someone struck him from behind. Falling into the snow he heard the sound of broken glass and the cry:
“Oh, I’m very sorry!”
There was so much embarrassment in the voice that Rusanov could not be angry. A pair of hands helped him to his feet. A small girl in a green sport-jacket stood before him. Confusion was visible in her eyes.
“I’m very sorry,” she stammered again.
She stepped carefully around Rusanov and picked up a small packet that lay near the street-lamp post.
“Broken . . . I think . . .” said the girl sadly.
Rusanov felt guilty. “What happened?” he asked.
“I was carrying the plate,” she explained, “a negative . . . and pushed it against the pole.”
The girl unwrapped the packet. A strange enough negative, he thought, for he saw a black background and on it a light ribbon streaked with thin, black lines.
“What is it?” wondered Rusanov.
“A spectrum. That is the spectrum of the star Procyon. Do you understand?”
Rusanov looked at the girl or with some interest.
“About sixteen,” he thought, and immediately corrected himself: “No, older! Perhaps twenty-five or twenty-six . . .”
“Listen to me,” he said. “Where were you running to in the middle of the night with the photo?”
“To the telegraph office,” the girl replied. “It’s a great discovery.”
Rusanov laughed mildly. He liked unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary meetings. His humor suddenly improved.
“Discovery?” he asked again.
“Yes, Constantine Alexeëvitch. I knew you at once.”
The girl looked at his face suspiciously. Should she tell him or not?
“Look here,” she began. “I found in the spectrum of Procyon . . . But do you know enough about spectra? Wait a moment, I’ll explain everything to you.”
Rusanov did not immediately understand the essence of her somewhat garbled story. She spoke rapidly, from time to time asking: “Are you certain that you understand?”
She did not stick to chronological order in her tale, and Rusanov could only conjecture about much of it.
It seemed that she had become enthusiastic about astronomy while still in high school. After graduation from the Department of Physics of Moscow University she had departed to work in the observatory in Siberia’s Altai Mountains.
The first disillusionment: instead of making world-shaking discoveries, she had carried out trying and tedious work about classification of photographs of stellar spectra.
After four months of this she imagined that she had made a discovery. But the director of the observatory had dryly explained: an error.
Three more months and the second burst of joy and . . . a new error, the other disillusionment.
The months passed. Work, work, and more work. Nothing even slightly romantic. Numberless photographs of stellar spectra. Calculations. Classifications. And not even a single discovery. It seemed that her whole life would pass in this monotonous way. And suddenly . . .
“You understand,” she continued, “from the beginning even I could scarcely believe it. It’s certainly not very agreeable to repeat ceaselessly, as though to a child: “you have to work, but not to dream . . .” Yes, but it was so evident. 350 spectra from Procyon lay before me. The other astronomers had seen the spectra separately, but I looked at them all at one time, And, you understand, it seemed that a picture was formed out of the out of the separate lines. Such things happen, don’t they? From 350 spectrograms I chose 90 according to the order in which they were photographed. All of them had the same background: the lines of non-ionized metals. That was the, spectrum of Procyon, already long known. But besides that on every spectrogram I saw the line of one more element. The first spectrogram had the hydrogen line, the second the helium, the third the lithium . . . They followed in natural order to thorium, the ninetieth element of the Mendeleevian periodic table of the elements. You understand, that seemed as though someone had intentionally placed the elements in a precise sequence—that is, according to the periodic table. There is no explanation in nature for this fact, except for one: those lines are signals sent by intelligent beings.”
“Do you really believe that?” asked Rusanov, very seriously.
“Certainly!” the girl cried out. “Take, for example, the separate sounds that can be head in nature. Well, if you listen to the same sounds arranged, as a musical scale, can that be without the help of a being endowed with wisdom?
“I was afraid of telling anything about this discovery, supposing that it would just be another error. Later my vacation began. I left as though in a dream. During the trip I reproached myself: Why had I not told anyone. Although I had already arrived in Moscow, my thoughts were still in the observatory.”
They were still standing under the street-light on the quiet side street; Rusanov was looking fixedly at the snow-castle in silence.
“You . . . you don’t believe me, do you?” asked the girl.
To be completely honest, Rusaanov believed her no more than he would have believed someone who had stated that the seventh continent had been discovered somewhere in the Caspian Sea.
“Can you tell me your name, girl of science, who with a blow knocks people from their feet and takes pictures of the stars,” he said, avoiding the definitive word.
“Alla,” she answered. “Alla Vladimirovna Jungovskaya, astronomer,” Rusanov repeated to himself, and thought: No, she doesn’t look older than sixteen.”
Then he felt that he should something kind to her.
“Let’s have a look at that . . . that spectrogram,” he finally offered.
“Please,” said the girl with joy, “let’s go to my home. I’ll show them to you there.”
Until now Rusanov had understood only one thing: in his new acquaintance were mixed the traits of maturity and youthfulness. Life had taught Rusanov to come to conclusions about the people around him. While still in Spain he had memorized the words of a commissar of the International Brigade, an ex-instructor of mathematics: “Judge men only after a second encounter.”
“Anything can happen. Out of the mouths of babes,” he smiled internally, “but she does not seem at all like a child . . . Astronomer . . . Alla Vladimirovna Jungovskaya.”
The girl apparently felt a need to say something.
“Look here,” she said, “that discovery seems simple and understandable after it has been made. See here. Let’s suppose that Procyon has its own planetary system. Let’s also suppose that rational beings from one of those planets has decided to broadcast a signal into space. Radio waves are useless: they spread out too easily. Not gamma-rays or Rontgen-rays—they would be quickly absorbed. That shows that the most easily used would be the electromagnetic waves with interspacial wavelength, or, in other words, light waves, light.
“Think further about the idea: what would have to be sent across—that would have to be something understandable to all rational beings. Letters of the alphabet? But they differ. Ciphers? But there exist different systems of calculation. We can generally say that there exist on diverse worlds no two objects similar to each other besides one—the Mendeleevian table of chemical elements. It is something common to all worlds. On all planets the lightest chemical element is hydrogen—afterwards helium, lithium, and so forth. The Mendeleev table is easily sent across via light. Every chemical element has its own spectrum, its own passport. You understand, when I think about it, it seems to me that my discovery is not just chance, but a law . . .”
Rusanov raised his hand, as though he were inviting her to listen, and Jungovskaya became silent. They stopped. The Kremlin tower bells resounded clearly in the frosty air.
“Happy New Year!” said Rusanov and Alla responded with a silent smile.
They stood quietly, listening to the sound of the bells, which died away with distance.
Afterwards they walked faster.
“Answer me, respectable guardian of the stars,” began Rusanov. “Maybe that is some part of the processes taking place on the star.”
“No, no! The temperature of Procyon is only 8000° C. and conforming to the lines in the spectrum the origin of this radiation has more than a million degrees. It must be some type of artificial brilliance, produced on one of the planets of the Procyon system. Its power is so tremendous that we can only try to imagine . . . and nonetheless . . . Here, please, we’ve arrived . . .”
She led him into her tiny chamber, in which the piano and bookcase took up almost half the space. There was also a map of the heavens, hanging from the wall, and on the table stood a lamp under a green shade.
Alla invited Rusanov to sit down and brought him an album. It was an ordinary album; people usually save family photographs in such. That was the first time in Rusanov’s life that he had examined spectrograms, and they told him nothing. But he felt—he felt but did not understand—that she had indeed made a discovery. And he believed her, completely, without argument.
“Will you . . . you . . . believe me?” she asked quietly.
Rusanov answered without a smile.
“Yes, I believe.”
“The whole thing seems incredible,” she said; “it even seems to me at times that I am dreaming . . . I will awake and everything will disappear . . .” She became silent. The dull sounds of music came from somewhere nearby.
“I chose twenty more spectrograms apart from these. They were all different from the ordinary spectrum of Procyon. Look here, Procyon is a star similar to our sun. Spectral class—the fifth. The lines of neutral metals, like calcium, iron and others, are clearly expressed. But in these the backgrounds are ordinary, but contain completely extraordinary lines. And what is more wonderful, those of some elements together. That forces me to believe that ninety previous spectrograms are a kind of alphabet, and these twenty-two are a message . . . a letter . . .”
“And you have deciphered it?” interrupted Rusanov.
Alla shook her head.
“No. The task was too difficult for me. From a logical viewpoint, it would have to be a very simple system. I don’t know . . . I tried . . . but nothing happened. But the two spectrograms . . . You understand, I am not even certain myself . . . Don’t laugh . . . Maybe it’s only autosuggestion. Who knows? . . . But these two spectrograms immediately drew my attention. There was a feeling that I was looking at something truly intimate but written in a foreign language. And only when I was on the train, traveling to Moscow, did I conjecture that . . . You Probably know that in the Mendeleevian table of the elements the properties of elements are repeated after every eight numbers. If we leave out the last number we get the octave . . . Just as in music. The sounds repeat after every seven tones. And then I saw a scale on the spectrogram. They say that it’s dangerous for researchers to guess ahead. But I intended to find a musical score on the spectrograms, and it seems that I found it . . .”
“And you . . . transcribed that . . . music?” asked Rusanov and shivered: his voice sounded strange, as though it had come from far away.
“Yes, I wrote it.” Jungovskaya went to the piano. “If you want . . .”
“A moment.” Rusanov nervously paced across the room. He stopped before the window.
“Is it possible to see Procyon from here?”
Jungovskaya shoved the curtain aside.
“There beyond the neighbors’ house, to the right . . . Do you see? . . . Its light has been traveling for eleven years . . .”
Rusanov regarded the shining star. He was a lyric poet and knew how to observe the mild charm of the middle-Russian nature, knew how to show in poetry that which Levitan had demonstrated with the brush. Rusanov had written quite a bit of poetry about love, and in his very intimate and slightly sad verses a smile sometimes penetrated through, like a sunbeam through a veil of cloud. And the stars remained for Rusanov the symbol of the faraway and unattainable.
“Yes,” Rusanov answered quietly, “play it, please!”
He understood nothing about spectral analysis. But he knew music. Only music could tell him whether the girl was right or not.
And Rusanov grew emotional. It was only with tremendous willpower that he could force himself to leave the window, to sit down.
Jungovskaya. raised the piano cover. Her hands paused over the keyboard for a fraction of a second. Then she touched the keys. The first chord sounded. There was something alarming in it. The sounds flew upward and slowly died away. And new chords followed immediately.
In the first moments Rusanov heard nothing besides the savage combination of sounds. But then the melody—two melodies!—emerged. They wound together and the first of them slowly seemed to carry the fast and impetuous second. The sounds became inflamed, like sparks from a fire, and died; in their combination there was something intimate up to pain, and at the same time foreign and incomprehensible.
It was music, but of a type not at all customary. In the beginning its internal characteristics caused it to oppress, to humble. It seemed to carry inhuman, alien, superior, higher feelings.
Sometimes the hands of the pianist paused on the keys. And again they suddenly seemed to accumulate new strength. And then the strange double melody flared up louder and more convincingly. It seemed to attract, and Rusanov went unconsciously, as though obeying that attraction, to the piano.
He saw neither walls nor table nor lamp—he saw nothing besides the fingers feverishly running over the keyboard. His heart beat crazily, as though it were trying to hold to the speed of the music. His eyes misted . . .
The sounds shivered, pounded, as though they were trying to pull themselves out of the crude instrument. The piano could not sound out the whole melody, but compressed and broken it lived and called more strongly, more obstinately . . .
The music spurred his heart, here throwing itself skyward, like a whirlwind, there ending in a painful sigh.
It was full of all human feelings, and yet it had no feeling, just as the sunbeam remains colorless despite its being the combination of all colors of the rainbow . . .
For a moment the music ceased, and then burst forth with new force. No, it did not burst forth, it exploded! In a savage whirling the sounds flew up, joined together, and . . . disappeared. Only the single sound, soft and delicate, died away adagio, like the last flame of a burned-out fire . . .
And then there was silence. It seemed incredibly drawn-out. Then into the room there came the customary Terrestrial sounds—a distant train whistle, voices.
Rusanov went to the window. Over the roof twinkled the bright star Procyon of the constellation Canis Minor. And its light seemed to emit a mysterious and solemn music.
SOURCE: Zhuravleva, Valentina. Starlight Rhapsody, translated by Donald J. Harlow, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1964 (Volume 26, no. 1, whole no. 152), pp. 21-28.
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1964 (Volume 26, no. 1, whole no. 152): Covers & Contents
Starluma Rapsodio de Ĵuravleva Valentina, tradukis Aleksej I. Verŝinin
Sciencfikcio & Utopia Literaturo en Esperanto / Science Fiction & Utopian Literature in Esperanto: Gvidilo / A Guide
Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources: A Selective Work in Progress
Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Retgvidilo al Esperanto & Interlingvistiko
Alireteje / Offsite:
Valentina Zhuravleva @ Ĝirafo
Rhapsody by Valentina Zhuravleva
Moscow News, January 1, 1960. p. 7
рапсодия (Stellar Rhapsody) / Валентина
Журавлева (Valentina Zhuravleva)
Excerpt of original story + photo of author
Chapter 11: Human Monsters Under My Bed (Sam's POV) by Alec Starr (Alec's Hidden Fics)
Esperanto and Science-Fiction by Don Harlow
Valentina Ĵuravlova - Vikipedio
Valentina Zhuravleva - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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