I too was dissatisfied with the reading of Aelita because of the shallow characters and pervasive imperialistic attitude, as well as issues of credibility. I was surprised by the manner in which these two Russians approached an alien culture, and I found it hard to believe that they would be so casual about it. From what I understood, this is the first time anyone is coming into contact with the Martian species, and possibly the first time humans come into contact with any alien species. Yet the Russians, and Gusev in particular, act in a manner that shows him to be solely focused on one thing – his profits. The entire story reeked of imperialism and this character fit uncomfortably well with the stereotype of the explorer seeking to exploit the native people.
Gusev’s preoccupancy with conquering and exploiting is carried to unfortunate comical extremes, with him offering up useless trash for gold, exposing the aliens to smoking and hard alcohol, and declaring a claim to Mars as a Russian territory. If we look at where Russia was historically at the time, it seems logical that a comrade would be preoccupied with gaining international credibility through whatever means possible, in order to advance Russia’s social position. Yet the belittling of this Martian culture, which is obviously extremely complex, into a relationship between the cultured “white man” and “native” (whom he refers to as bastards) seemed to do nothing but reinforce this unfortunate character mold. Even his initial reaction of violence by handgun seems forced, when combined with the apparent wisdom of his companion Los. One wonders whether the reader is supposed to seriously believe that an insensitive man like this would be sent off as a first human contact to a new species of people.
Yet Los seems to be exactly the opposite of the bold and wily explorer – he plays the role of introspective, curious scientist too well to allow the reader to be emotionally invested in him. His pacifist actions serve as a counterbalance and a voice of reason to Gusev’s impulses, and he, rather inexplicably but predictably, is able to comprehend the beauty of this alien culture within a week of study. This parting scene might have been wishful exaggeration, but it does secure these two characters into unappealing character molds that easily and unsurprisingly dictate the patterns of this story.