Something strange is going on, and Malianov learns he isn’t the first one who has found himself thwarted just when he’s on the verge of a tremendous scientific breakthrough. There’s his friend, the biologist Weingarten, who suddenly found himself with Nobel Prize-worthy results, as well as Zakhar Gubar, working: “on some gigantic, very important project, something to do with energetics”. Both come to Malianov and recount how they were maneuvered off-course — not in the same way as Malianov, but in both cases quite outlandishly.
What it amounts to is that there appear to be forces that ensure that mankind is prevented from making certain scientific-technological advances — possibly because of their destructive potential. I.e. mankind is being saved from itself, as it were. The identity of these conspiring forces isn’t entirely clear. An alien supercivilization ? A ‘Union of Nine’, a group of: “secretive wise men” who have watched over progress since ancient times ?
And also this:
Known as science fiction authors, the speculative parts of the Strugatsky brothers’ fiction tends towards the philosophical . This isn’t a futuristic novel, or one set in an alien world. Definitely Maybe is entirely earth- and present-bound, with much of the action — and heavy drinking — hardly out of the ordinary for any fictional depiction of 1970s Soviet life. Yet an air of mystery hangs over the entire story — beginning with the presentation of the narrative itself: subtitled: A Manuscript Discovered Under Strange Circumstances, it is presented as a series of excerpts. The story is a continuous one — but parts are also missing, as the ellipses at the start of each new excerpt (and the end of several of them, too) reminds readers. The narrative also shifts from the third person to the first person, Malianov telling the final bits of his story himself.
Also see Paul Di Filippo’s review.