The idea for A Russia for Yuri Nikolaevich evolved from a companion piece, A Solitude of Space, which was itself inspired by a central theme of Lem’s Solaris: that contact between humanity and an alien civilisation may not bring mutual understanding.
The first draft of A Russia began as a story about a spacecraft propelled by the collective will of galley slaves. Disruption arrives in the form of a woman whose mind is powerful enough to alter the course of the ship. The second draft re-imagined the story as that of a husband and wife taking a final cruise in the dying days of their marriage. Again, they sailed an intention-powered craft, this time across the surface of an ocean planet. The story hinged on the man’s struggle to power the craft with his will, and how he deals with the revelation that his wife also has the power.
In the third draft, I placed the story on a snow planet and made the characters marooned, Chinese astronauts. They named the planet wo, which means I, me, myself. The story was fine, but I wasn’t quite happy with it; probably I was unconvinced by the ability of the female astronaut to conjure great ice structures from the permafrost.
Between the third and fourth draft, I read a biography of the Soviet rocket engineer and designer Sergei Korolev. The astronauts became cosmonauts in a future Soviet Union. The snow turned to ash. The cosmonauts named their planet sushnyek.
I’ll let you find out what sushnyek means when you read the story on the Unsung Stories website, if the mood takes you.