An unmythical Altshuller
(PART 4.)

Leonid Filkovsky,
Baltimore, USA.

Copyright © 2003 by L. Filkovsky

Altshuller returned to Baku. The only relatives he had were a married sister's family, but he cut off all contacts with her for her "witness" role against him. Somebody else occupied the apartment he used to live in with his mother before the arrest. The only job he could find was a foreman in a cord manufacture (KGB helped to get this job.) It certainly wasn't a creative intellectual job, quite opposite. It required flexibility in relations with subordinate workers and managers, finding compromises, rounding corners, etc. Altshuller just hated all this. Plus, this job didn't leave any time for science fiction or inventiveness. He soon resigned.

Writing became a main source of income. Altshuller wrote articles in newspapers, later - science fiction stories in magazines. Together with another writer, Felitzin, he published a science fiction book, "A secret of a triple strike". At the same time, he continued the studies of the "Bulletin of Inventions" (regular official publication of short descriptions of inventions registered in USSR), which he started in 1946.

Altshuller believed that it was more interesting and more useful to work on a method of invention, rather than on specific inventions. Together with R. Shapiro, he wrote a first article on this topic in the academic journal "Questions of Psychology", in 1956.

He lived alone. During the years he spent in GULAG the most beautiful girl, Lu, married and moved out of town. When she learned of his return she got divorced and returned to Baku, but Altshuller rejected her because of her taking part in his accusation. He was in contact with nobody from his old circles except the others arrested - i.e. Shapiro and Antonov, because most of those people were connected to his trial and Altshuller didn't accept any excuses regarding that.

Once in the summer of 1957, I invited Altshuller and Antonov to stop by. Although my wife with the kid was out of town, Altshuller liked a coziness of our small apartment. After taking a shower at the end of the extremely hot and humid summer day in Baku, in a good mood, he said, "I see now how nice it is to have a family. Let's take a walk and I'll propose to a first girl I meet." In half an hour we've met two girls, and Genrich liked one of them. He told her about his life, about his half hour old promise and proposed. It took two days for the girl, Valentina Zhuravleva, and for her parents to digest the situation and to agree to the marriage.

Altshuller writing skills and technical background became important when a vice minister of construction of Azerbaijan Soviet Republic (of which Baku was a capital), Izmailov, organized a new team, dedicated to promoting scientific and technical advances into the construction industry. I got a research position in this team. Altshuller was invited to edit a new journal, "Bulletin of Construction". He agreed to work in the office three days a week, for the full pay.

Altshuller was very busy writing lots of science-fiction stories and articles about inventiveness. His three days in the office were also filled up with job. The rest of us were struck by his high abilities to work, level of organization, efficiency and skills. He edited my first article so perfectly, that it became an example for me of how to write scientific papers. My other friend, a geologist, decided to try himself in writing and asked Altshuller to edit his first story. Altshuller did, using a red pencil. When my friend saw the amount of red on his paper, he forever quit his writing attempts.

We all knew of Altshuller ideas about a method of inventiveness. The "IFR" ("ideal final result") became an every-day phrase among his colleagues and friends - we applied it to everything at work and in life, seriously or joking. His articles on the method appeared in popular science as well as professional journals. By then, a greater success he achieved in science fiction. In this area, lots of help came from his wife.

After their marriage Altshuller suggested that Zhuravleva would change her profession from a medical doctor to a writer. She just graduated from medical school and didn't even start working yet. Altshuller created for her a personal course of literature studies and Zhuravleva quickly learned the basics of literature and writing with his help and under his supervision. Soon they started to write science fiction stories together. To avoid anti-Semitic restrictions, the stories were published with one name, Zhuravleva (which is a Russian name, unlike the Jewish Altshuller). Simultaneously some stories written by Altshuller were published with his pseudonym, Altov (which sounds Russian, too). A sudden appearance of a professional while previously unknown writer, Zhuravleva, created some doubts in writing circles, including doubts in her existence. To test these, the Writers Union, an official Soviet organization of writers, sent from Moscow a well-known writer, Ovchinikov, to visit Zhuravleva in Baku. When she opened the door, Ovchinikov exclaimed, "So Valentina Zhuravleva really exists!" She proved herself during the conversation. This opened widely the publishers' doors.

Working in our team in the Construction Ministry became a burden. Altshuller had publishing contracts for new science fiction stories and books and didn't have time for office work. When he announced his resignation the vice minister offered him to work only one day a week, for the full pay, but he refused anyway. We were very sorry - it was so interesting just to listen to him! He was very exciting writer and lecturer. His science fiction stories differed from the main stream and an army of fans, especially youth, grew fast. His book, "Legends on Star Captains", followed by hundreds of appreciating letters. At the inventiveness seminars Altshuller always included discussions on science fiction and its history, and on literature in general. His ideas were different from the official "social realism". When asked, why wouldn't he write about the present, Altshuller used to reply, "I've got 25 years once, don't want anymore. It's safer to write about future."

There was a year when Altshuller was the most published author in USSR. He was paid at the highest scale, like Sholochov and Paustovsky, still not being a member of the Writers Union. To become one, by the rules, he had to apply to the local branch, which was against his principles. He was well known in the Union's headquarters in Moscow, was invited there to lecture on science fiction, and the famous Soviet writers advised their colleagues in Baku to give Altshuller and Zhuravleva membership in the Union.

Finally the Writers Union in Baku took an initiative and invited Altshuller and Zhuravleva to present themselves to the membership committee. Knowing Altshuller uneasy personality, they decided to talk to Zhuravleva first. She told about herself and answered questions. The committee mood was very positive and she became a member with no problem.

Next, Altshuller came in. The story of his life went quite smooth, but questions turned into a discussion. When asked about showing roles of Communist Party and Communist Youth Union in his stories, he became angry. To the question, why he doesn't describe a future of "collective farms", he said, "Because they don't have a future". A specialist in the classical Armenian literature accused Altshuller in disregarding Party guidelines. He replied, "Tell me the name of one science fiction book you've read". The specialist's face started to change colors. The discussion quickly turned into a noisy chaos and Altshuller just walked out. The Writers Union of Azerbaijan Republic voted not to accept his membership.

This didn't upset Altshuller at all. By then, he was paid for his writing enough not only to support his family but also to actively and independently spread his theory of inventiveness. He organized direct education of inventiveness. The first experiment was conducted in Stavropol factory, "Red Metallist". Then, he conducted seminars in various factories in Moscow, Tambov, Baku, Novosibirsk and other industrial centers. In 1959 he received support from the central newspaper, "Komsomolskaya Pravda". After that, a popular science and technology journal, "Izobretatel & Ratzionalizator", started to publish a series of his articles and conducted a public discussion on his ideas. Altshuller book on inventiveness, "How to Learn to Invent", was published. He organized a survey of inventors through mailed questionnaires. After Altshuller analyzed the answers he conducted a consequent survey, which included inventors in 180 towns in USSR. His second book on inventiveness, "Fundamentals of Inventiveness", was published then.

At that time Altshuller mostly covered the expenses of traveling around the country to the seminars, typing, mailing educational and research materials, etc., from money paid to him for science fiction. The factories could pay only the very minimal coverage because Altshuller didn't have any professional or academic credits. Others already used his ideas for post-graduate studies, researchers from USSR and Eastern European countries appealed to him for advise, opinion and support, but he still was "just" Altshuller - although Germans called him in their letters, Herr Professor.

Finally, the College of Education in Saratov offered Altshuller to enter post-graduate studies there for a doctor degree. Altshuller thanked them but noted that he never graduated a college, which was a prerequisite to becoming a doctor. The member of Azerbaijan Academy of Science, and my schoolmate, Mirzajanzade, offered Altshuller to finish the missing two years of graduate studies, to make a post-graduate, to become a doctor, and after that to teach the theory of inventiveness as continuous education course for engineers with a possibility of making his own cathedra in Azerbaijan College of Oil and Chemistry. Altshuller thanked again but said that he can't waste his time on classes, projects and exams and on writing thesis only to receive some formal papers and a stable pay - he received enough money from science fiction writing and preferred to spend his time on further developing the theory of inventiveness and for teaching this theory to other people. We, his friends, tried to convince him to accept this golden opportunity and offered our help with the projects, etc., but Altshuller was very firm and didn't want to hear any mention of help.

His activities in the science fiction field were not limited to writing. Altshuller didn't tolerate plagiarism and openly criticized writers who used other authors' ideas. Publishers' excuse often was, not being able to know all published science fiction ideas. To solve this situation Altshuller began to work on registering, sorting and classifying these ideas. This project required reading of all science fiction literature from the very beginning of this junre. It was closely connected to the work on theory of inventiveness. He developed and taught as one of the inventiveness courses, a method for creating new science fiction ideas. Some of "homework" or "projects" of the courses, for example, were to analyze fate of various science fiction ideas of Jules Verne, which of them have been realized in one way or another, which were found out to be non-feasible; or, to describe a new science fiction animal living on a planet with some given anomaly; or, to describe consequences of a given anomaly; etc.

The results of this science fiction research Altshuller typed into brochures, which he called, "Registries of science fiction ideas". Two-three copies of the registries he used to mail to friends. They made copies (our generation would remember how difficult it was to make a copy of anything without an official permission) and gave them to their friends. We've learned later that these registries were sold, on the "black market" of course, for 25 rubles per brochure. Writers as well as publishers used them. Altshuller worked on the registries five or six years, and a result was a "patent library" of science fiction.

Other activity was related to a state of the art in science fiction. Altshuller created a "prize" for the worst science fiction writing of year. It was a plastic crocodile on a wooden base under a transparent hemisphere. Altshuller used to send it to the "Young technical experts" club in Moscow, where he regularly taught, and the school kids there decided about a winner and sent the "prize" with their decision to that writer. According to Altshuller, he agreed to their decision always except once, when the club sent the "prize" to a beginning writer, whom Altshuller believed to have a good potential.

Once Altshuller received an invitation for a meeting in one of Baku hotels. When he arrived there, he was met by a very snobbish representative of Dovzhenko studio (one of the most important Soviet government movie studios). Without much explanation, the representative put a paper on desk in front of Altshuller and said: "We have decided to make a movie based on one of you legends on star captains. A screen write is ready. Sign here that you agree. The money will be sent after receiving of the final resolution."

The representative obviously expected Altshuller to immediately become ultimately happy. Altshuller of course was not to tolerate this kind of behavior. He replied: "Dovzhenko studio didn't make even one good movie in all years after the war. The only exception, 'After two rabbits', based on an old classical screen write. I don't trust your screen writers, don't want them to mess with my books and will sign nothing." The representative was shocked: "We'll send you the screen write, you can..." Altshuller cut him off: "Send nothing. I don't want to deal with you at all", and left the room.

In 1964 Altshuller and Shapiro began to write a book about their trial. They didn't see each other from the moment of the arrest, being kept in separate cells. Investigators told to each of them that the other has already pleaded guilty and signed the accusations. Each of them didn't give in to this lie. The book has been officially approved and they received 40% of the contract pay from publisher. But before the book was finished, in 1965 they suddenly were called to Moscow, where a publishing director informed them that her husband, a high rank general, participated in some high ranking government meeting and a decision was made there to stop publishing books on an "anti-Stalin" theme. Instead of returning the money, the publisher agreed to change the contract: Shapiro would write a book for youth on juridical topics, "The Law is The Law". This later book was published but we all were very sorry that the original book, which we were eagerly awaiting, hasn't been written.

At one of New Year Eves, which my wife and I celebrated with Altshuller and Zhuravleva, after midnight, Altshuller said, "Let me tell you a book which lives inside me and which I will never write". We listened to him until morning. It was an extremely interesting story told by an extremely skillful storyteller, on his life. Unfortunately, I didn't even keep notes - I didn't think then that almost forty year later I'd be writing reminiscences about Altshuller.

In the beginning of the 70s, Altshuller's School of Inventiveness in Baku has been officially converted into Azerbaijan Public College for Inventive Creativity, AzPCIC, with Altshuller as its head. Hundreds of interested youngsters and their parents gathered for the opening ceremony. We, Altshuller's friends, were very happy for him. We saw it as a triumph, a fruit of twenty years of his amazing work and uncountable fights against a bureaucratic system, an anti-Semitic policies and reactionary officials.

While heading AzPCIC, Altshuller didn't stop all his other activities. He continued to write, read and criticize science fiction, to organize inventive seminars and schools in other towns, to research and develop the theory of inventiveness, to read and write hundreds of letters a week (he never left a letter without responding to it), to develop educational materials, to write articles and books on inventive creativity, etc. The amount of the work was gigantic. He couldn't always personally go to all places he's been invited and started to send his disciples instead.

Once in a conversation we got to the issue of retirement. I said, "Like all creative people, you will eventually come to a point that you won't be able to continue to work like this. Who or what will pay your retirement?" "Nobody," he replied. "When I won't be able to work, I won't be able to live, and then I won't need any retirement."

About that time, a Jewish emigration from USSR became possible, although it required an official permission, and the government and its officers made various obstacles to get one. In 1979 my family decided to leave and move to Israel. When I suggested Altshuller to join us, he said, "I am a Russian writer in an advanced age and will never be able to learn Hebrew good enough to write professionally. I teach inventiveness for the last thirty years and have created a good audience. In Israel, I'd have to start everything from scratch. I don't care at all for the material goods. I'll rather stay here."

We left. First few years I exchanged letters with Altshuller regularly and quite often. Then, this connection became weaker and weaker. After ten years it discontinued altogether.