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The novel follows Anton, an undercover operative from the future planet Earth, in his mission on an alien planet, that is populated by human beings, whose society has not advanced beyond the Middle Ages. The novel's core idea is that human progress throughout the centuries is often cruel and bloody, and that religion and blind faith can be an effective tool of oppression, The novel follows Anton, an undercover operative from the future planet Earth, in his mission on an alien planet, that is populated by human beings, whose society has not advanced beyond the Middle Ages. The novel's core idea is that human progress throughout the centuries is often cruel and bloody, and that religion and blind faith can be an effective tool of oppression, working to destroy the emerging scientific disciplines and enlightenment.


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The novel follows Anton, an undercover operative from the future planet Earth, in his mission on an alien planet, that is populated by human beings, whose society has not advanced beyond the Middle Ages. The novel's core idea is that human progress throughout the centuries is often cruel and bloody, and that religion and blind faith can be an effective tool of oppression, The novel follows Anton, an undercover operative from the future planet Earth, in his mission on an alien planet, that is populated by human beings, whose society has not advanced beyond the Middle Ages. The novel's core idea is that human progress throughout the centuries is often cruel and bloody, and that religion and blind faith can be an effective tool of oppression, working to destroy the emerging scientific disciplines and enlightenment.

30 review for Hard to Be a God

  1. 4 out of 5

    Evgeny

    Review is completely rewritten on December 28, 2018. Reasons are given below. A group read with Elena and Sarah. Strugatsky brothers have cult following on the territory of the former Soviet Union. How big is the cult? Let me just say that you could not call yourself an intelligent person (especially during your college studies) if you were not familiar with their works. Hard to Be a God is their first book among really great ones, of the type that made them an unofficial required reading. The bo Review is completely rewritten on December 28, 2018. Reasons are given below. A group read with Elena and Sarah. Strugatsky brothers have cult following on the territory of the former Soviet Union. How big is the cult? Let me just say that you could not call yourself an intelligent person (especially during your college studies) if you were not familiar with their works. Hard to Be a God is their first book among really great ones, of the type that made them an unofficial required reading. The book belongs to so-called Noon Universe. This is an utopian world of the future. However even in utopia there are rebels - people trying to get away from safe routine life. Such people are great candidates for space explorers, and scouts. Anton/Rumata was one of such people. His mission was to spend some time as a mere observer on an undeveloped planet where people still lived during what looked like Earth's middle ages. Everything was fine except for that pesky clause about not meddling in the society affairs (think Prime Directive from Star Trek). Rumata was so good at being undercover that he made real friends as well as real enemies. What happened when his enemies started killing his friends and drag the society back to dark ages in the process? Nothing. He had god-like powers to stop bad guys, but could not use them. In other words, Rumata was a god compared to the rest of the people of the planet, but he was also the person with the least power to change anything. At this point an interesting question comes: for how long can you passively observe all the atrocities around you before you would not be able to look at yourself in a mirror without feeling deep shame? Rumata learned the answer. Another interesting observation relates to the famous saying that if you wear a mask all the time the mask becomes you. I was fascinated following Rumata's slow but sure slide into a persona of a medieval playboy with corresponding attitude - the real one. The story combines fast-paced action with deep philosophical questions successfully, something very few books manage to pull off. The first version of the review did not address enough of the character study of the book because I wrote it long after I finished reading. The second version explains some of the fundamental points better - I hope. At least the rating is still the same: 5 stars. P.S. If you do not know Russian get English translation by Olena Bormashenko; the other translation is incomprehensible.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Rating: 4* of five The Publisher Says: Don Rumata has been sent from Earth to the medieval kingdom of Arkanar with instructions to observe and to save what he can. Masquerading as an arrogant nobleman, a dueler, and a brawler, he is never defeated, but yet he can never kill. With his doubt and compassion, and his deep love for a local girl named Kira, Rumata wants to save the kingdom from the machinations of Don Reba, the first minister to the king. But given his orders, what role can he play? Th Rating: 4* of five The Publisher Says: Don Rumata has been sent from Earth to the medieval kingdom of Arkanar with instructions to observe and to save what he can. Masquerading as an arrogant nobleman, a dueler, and a brawler, he is never defeated, but yet he can never kill. With his doubt and compassion, and his deep love for a local girl named Kira, Rumata wants to save the kingdom from the machinations of Don Reba, the first minister to the king. But given his orders, what role can he play? This long overdue translation will reintroduce one of the most profound Soviet-era novels to an eager audience. My Review: It's hard to review a world-famous classic. I have to think the translation is faithful because it captures a voice that lesser translators more often than not miss entirely. The standard adventure plot is fun. In common with a lot of SF written in that era, we don't get a lot of well-drawn characters; in this case only one, Don Rumata himself. What makes this a classic, then? It would raise few eyebrows today, if it was a new publication. That it is 52 years old makes all the difference; that it is an excellent example of its niche solidifies the place History has given it. But anyone not already caught in the tentacles of the SF Cthulhu monster might want to pass by without slowing down too much.

  3. 5 out of 5

    ✘✘ Sarah ✘✘ (former Nefarious Breeder of Murderous Crustaceans)

    👃 A Smelly Medieval Times Are Smelly Buddy Read with Evgeny and Elena 👃 Actual rating: 4.5 stars So. Take some undercover operatives/historians from a future Shangri-La-type, advanced civilization. Send them to observe and study a planet that resembles Earth in the Super Fun Middle Ages (SFMA™). Strictly forbid them to interfere with the delightfully boorish puny locals’ puny affairs, regardless of how desperate/bad/fished up/morally reprehensible/choose all that apply the situation is. What do yo 👃 A Smelly Medieval Times Are Smelly Buddy Read with Evgeny and Elena 👃 Actual rating: 4.5 stars So. Take some undercover operatives/historians from a future Shangri-La-type, advanced civilization. Send them to observe and study a planet that resembles Earth in the Super Fun Middle Ages (SFMA™). Strictly forbid them to interfere with the delightfully boorish puny locals’ puny affairs, regardless of how desperate/bad/fished up/morally reprehensible/choose all that apply the situation is. What do you get? A bunch of guys with godlike-powers on the verge of a nervous breakdown. More or less, yes. By the way, Kirkie, I hear that the whole “thou shalt not interfere, NO, though shalt NOT” business is reminiscent of your Prime Directive Thingie (PDT™). Maybe you should consider applying for a consulting job with the above-mentioned reluctant god wannabes. Looks like they could use some advice and stuff. Our main character (real name Anton, covert name Rumata) is slightly on the brink of such a breakdown. A little. Well, the poor guy is no longer on the brink, really. He has been on this lovely feudal paradise for five years, and is positively swimming in neurasthenia. And fast developing wonderfully bipolar tendencies, too. It’s no wonder, to be honest. I mean, had I been in his place, I would have unleashed the crustaceans on those filthy, uncivilized alien lowlives (aka the “scientific specimens”) a mere five minutes after setting foot on that silly, backward planet. But Rumata has a heart, and I don’t, so he didn’t, but I would have. Oh yes, most definitely. Believe me, these medieval alien lab rats (or is it alien medieval lab rats? I forget) really deserve to die a deathly deadly death. Why, you ask? Well mostly because: 1) Their complete lack of personal hygiene is absolutely unacceptable and thoroughly revolting. (“My kingdom for a soap bar!” is reported to have said Rumata when taking his last distressfully bubble-free bath.) 2) Underwear conundrums *shudders* 3) Unwashed nymphs who reek of body odor mixed with heavy perfume (yummy). 4) Assorted, um, you know, exotic smells and stuff. You could say that, yes. Rumata, although concerned about these stinky predicaments, seems to be a great deal more troubled by local habits and customs I myself find quite charming and delightfully quaint: OTT violence, sex and booze, for example. Always a winning combination in my nefarious world, it is apparently not looked upon very kindly in Rumata’s Utopia-like homeland. (Some people are really weird.) Then there’s the whole, hey-why-don’t-we-turn-our-underdeveloped-medieval-paradise-into-a-feudal-facism-dreamland thingie, which I personally think is pure genius. Rumata, what with his disgusting ethics and repulsive decency, finds this a little distasteful, obviously. (The guy can be such a virtuous bore sometimes *eyeroll*) And doesn’t react too well when the local barbarian nutcases lovely natives start persecuting scientists and scholars, and basically eradicating anyone with an IQ score higher than 2. (I employed both methods myself during the Shrimpy Inquisition of 1256, and they worked wonders, just so you know. Well they worked wonders for me, obviously. Not for puny humans.) Anyway, all this despicable shit goes down these positive changes are brought about, and they don’t really sit well with poor Rumata. How can an appallingly well-intended, principled guy like him watch these pathetic little not-so-green men feeble alien creatures be ruthlessly oppressed and callously slaughtered and not act, as he was ordered to, I ask you? Well he can’t, obviously. Hence the near-nervous breakdown, slight bipolarity and minor mental instability. Hey, Rumata! How’s it going? Found any soap yet? And then what happens, you ask? Rumata kinda sorta loses spoiler spoiler spoiler, and kinda sorta becomes spoiler spoiler spoiler. And then what else? Why spoiler spoiler spoiler, DUH. ➽ Nefarious Last Words (NLW™): this is original. This is thought-provoking. This is funny. This is dramatic. This is fast-paced. And this is entertaining as fish. Need I say more? Didn’t think so. (view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)] P.S. Read the Olena Bormashenko translation of this book you must, for utterly crappy all the others are. You are most welcome.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    Different planet, different epoch, different consciousness, different psychology – how will observers or spies or watchmen from the future Earth succeed in their mission of controlling the alien history even if it resembles so much our own medieval period of dark ages. “In the depths of the forest, a mile away from the road, beneath an enormous tree that had dried up of old age, stood a lopsided hut made out of enormous logs, surrounded by a blackened picket fence. It had been here since the begi Different planet, different epoch, different consciousness, different psychology – how will observers or spies or watchmen from the future Earth succeed in their mission of controlling the alien history even if it resembles so much our own medieval period of dark ages. “In the depths of the forest, a mile away from the road, beneath an enormous tree that had dried up of old age, stood a lopsided hut made out of enormous logs, surrounded by a blackened picket fence. It had been here since the beginning of time, its door was always shut, and there were crooked idols carved from whole tree trunks around its rotting porch. This hut was the most dangerous place in the Hiccup Forest. It was said that this was the very place to which the ancient Pekh would come every twelve years to deliver his offspring, after which he would immediately crawl beneath the hut and expire, so the hut’s entire cellar was filled with black poison. And when the poison seeped out—that’s when the end would come. It was said that on stormy nights, the idols dug themselves out of the ground, came out onto the road, and signaled to passersby. And it was also said that sometimes the windows shone with unnatural light, sounds resounded through the forest, and a column of smoke reached up from the chimney to the sky. Not long ago, Irma Kukish, a sober simpleton from the farmstead of Plenitude (in common parlance, Stinkfield) foolishly wandered by the hut at night and peered into the windows. He came home completely incoherent, and after he recovered a little, said that the hut was full of bright light and that a man with his feet on the bench sat behind a crude table and guzzled from a barrel held in one hand. The man’s face hung all the way down to his waist and was spotted all over. It was obvious that this was the Holy Míca himself, before his conversion to the faith, a polygamist, drunkard, and blasphemer. To look at him was to be afraid. A sickly sweet smell wafted out the window, and shadows moved across the trees. People gathered from all over to hear the idiot’s story. And it all ended when the storm troopers came, bent his elbows to his shoulder blades, and hustled him off to the city of Arkanar. But people still talked about the hut, and it was now called nothing but the Drunken Lair.” This fine excerpt excellently conveys the picturesque atmosphere of the novel. And of course this exotic place is a secret base of the earthlings. “The essence of man,” Budach said, chewing slowly, “lies in his astonishing ability to get used to anything. There’s nothing in nature that man could not learn to live with. Neither horse nor dog nor mouse has this property. Probably God, as he was creating man, guessed the torments he was condemning him to and gave him an enormous reserve of strength and patience. It is difficult to say whether this is good or bad. If man didn’t have such patience and endurance, all good people would have long since perished, and only the wicked and soulless would be left in this world. On the other hand, the habit of enduring and adapting turns people into dumb beasts, who differ from the animals in nothing except anatomy, and who only exceed them in helplessness. And each new day gives rise to a new horror of evil and violence.” Can historical processes be changed from the outside? Do the outsiders have the moral rights to change them? These aren’t rhetorical questions – these questions are actual here and now, in our own home world.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    This is one of the best books ever! It's such a unique & nuanced look at the past human and social condition, yet so relevant to the present time for both. It tells the story of a human society on another planet that is circa the middle ages in development. A group of earthlings are monitoring this society covertly and it is through the eyes of one of the earth born humans that resides amongst this society that we get a good look into the mirror of the past and into the magnifying glass of the p This is one of the best books ever! It's such a unique & nuanced look at the past human and social condition, yet so relevant to the present time for both. It tells the story of a human society on another planet that is circa the middle ages in development. A group of earthlings are monitoring this society covertly and it is through the eyes of one of the earth born humans that resides amongst this society that we get a good look into the mirror of the past and into the magnifying glass of the present. What's best is that it has a fantastical feel, yet there is nothing unreal about it - other than the existence of another planet with a human society ;) The main theme of this book and one aptly identified in the title Hard to Be a God is how the advanced human beings from earth should react to the harsh human conditions that exist within the more primitive race of humans on the planet. Should they intercept with the knowledge and technology they have in order to better their condition? A friend pointed out to me that to truly appreciate the relevance of this story to actual human events, one only has to note the environment in which the authors lived which happened to be communist Russia. For example, parallels can be drawn between the main theme of the story and the Russian Revolution of 1917. At the time of this revolution, Russian people were inert slaves and did not participate in the revolution. The Revolution was performed by a very small group of communist revolutionists comprised of intelligentsia and ethnically oppressed minorities such as Jews, Latvians, and Poles which can lead one to surmise that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was indeed forced on the Russian people by "people from another planet”! So now consider, was interference really the right thing to do? Forced advancement of the social system within Russia (and other places) didn't necessarily succeed, though the temptation of interfering was strong and seemed right. The authors do a good job in accurately portraying this truth. I highly recommend this book for those who love fantasy, but maybe want to read something a little more scholastic. And I highly recommend it for those in academia who don't delve too much into fantasy, but would like something creative, yet compatible with their sensibilities. The authors throw in a bit of scientific vocabulary here in there; sound philosophical observations; and seem to have a genuine ease in storytelling. Highly recommended!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Althea Ann

    Fascinating and important work. Published in 1964, I feel that it may have been an influence on, or at least a precursor to, many of my favorite books. I saw thematic similarities with some of Iain Banks’ Culture novels, especially Inversions, and Kage Baker’s Company series. The story deals with a ‘deep’ agent from an advanced civilization, who is supposed to observe and record the feudal society he’s been planted in, without interfering. However, the society he’s working in is on the verge of a Fascinating and important work. Published in 1964, I feel that it may have been an influence on, or at least a precursor to, many of my favorite books. I saw thematic similarities with some of Iain Banks’ Culture novels, especially Inversions, and Kage Baker’s Company series. The story deals with a ‘deep’ agent from an advanced civilization, who is supposed to observe and record the feudal society he’s been planted in, without interfering. However, the society he’s working in is on the verge of a shift from feudalism to fascism. Purges of intellectuals are increasing, and the agent finds it harder and harder to maintain any kind of objectivity. Meanwhile, he also battles the tendency to lose sight of his identity; he finds himself becoming more and more like the callous, boorish aristocrat he is impersonating. But he also finds himself truly caring for his native lover… There’s a lot going on in the relatively brief book. Anton, while maintaining his cover identity as Don Rumata, tries to balance his ethics against the demands of his job. His attempts to rescue the scientists and artists that he sees as the lights of hope in a dark and ignorant world make for an exciting story. But it’s also very philosophical, exploring the ramifications of a non-interference policy, the tendency toward abuse of power, and the nature of humanity. It’s very interesting to see science-fiction themes which I’ve seen explored from American and European perspectives many times from the point of view of Russian authors. Here, the advanced, peaceful and free society which the researchers are from is, of course, one where the ideals of communism have come to full fruition. I wished I could see more of that world – and may have to seek out some of the Strugatsky brothers’ other books to explore further. However, their vision is not all starry-eyed: the world of Arkanar and its Inquisitorial brutalities are very clearly parallel to abuses and purges from Russia’s history. Highly recommended – both as a great reading experience, and for anyone interested in the various facets of science fiction as a genre. Copy provided by NetGalley - thanks for bringing this book to my attention! As always, my opinion is purely my own.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ivana Books Are Magic

    Hard to Be a God is a novel with a cult following and for a good reason. It is an engaging tale set in future that questions relationship between society and an (advanced) individual. This is the second novel by Strugatsky brother that I have read with this premise. The first one was Inhabited island (Prisoners of Power). However, Inhabited island featured a protagonist who explored on his own and got strangled on another planet. Both protagonists try to improve the society they found themselves Hard to Be a God is a novel with a cult following and for a good reason. It is an engaging tale set in future that questions relationship between society and an (advanced) individual. This is the second novel by Strugatsky brother that I have read with this premise. The first one was Inhabited island (Prisoners of Power). However, Inhabited island featured a protagonist who explored on his own and got strangled on another planet. Both protagonists try to improve the society they found themselves in and both are equipped with special powers. Interestingly, both individuals don't reveal that much about Earth society. In both of these novels Earth is supposed to be this perfect society but it is never described in detail- I mean just how does that society function? Is it really as perfect as it seems? Hard to Be a God tells a tale of Anton, an Earth-man from a future society who dwells on a newly discovered planet with middle age society (feudalism). Anton dwells there for research purposes and assumes a disguise persona of a nobleman. Anton isn't the only human dwelling on the planet, there are other researchers and scientists like him. In fact, Anton and other Earth-men are expected to send information back to Earth so that future historians can examine it. There are also expected to follow strict rules, they are not to interfere with the natural development of society. It is a novel that shows the inner battle of its protagonist Anton, who is full of doubt, both in himself and in the mankind (on both planets). Anton constantly doubts himself and his colleagues. At the start of the novel, Anton can see that things are going baldy on this planet. All the learned men are being killed and Anton is not content to stand and watch. At the same time, Anton is not sure what exactly is he supposed to do. His colleagues give him examples of Earthman who have forgotten their true identity and got mixed up in the struggles of the planet. How does one remain distant and remain a human? Anton is torn between pity for the people and his hate towards the more brute examples of this medieval society: ...“Because I sincerely hate and despise them. Not pity them, no—only hate and despise. I can justify the stupidity and brutality of the kid I just passed all I want— the social conditions, the appalling upbringing, anything at all—but I now clearly see that he’s my enemy, the enemy of all that I love, the enemy of my friends, the enemy of what I hold most sacred. And I don’t hate him theoretically, as a “typical specimen,” but him as himself, him as an individual. I hate his slobbering mug, the stink of his unwashed body, his blind faith, his animosity toward everything other than sex and booze. There he goes, stomping around, the oaf, who half a year ago was still being thrashed by a fat-bellied father in a vain attempt to prepare him for selling stale flour and old jam; he’s wheezing, the dumb lug, struggling to recall the paragraphs of badly crammed regulations, and he just can’t figure out whether he’s supposed to cut the noble don down with his ax, shout “Stop!” or just forget about it. No one will find out anyway, so he’ll forget about it, go back to his recess, stuff some chewing bark into his mouth and chew it loudly, drooling and smacking his lips. And there’s nothing that he wants to know, and there’s nothing he wants to think about.” Hard to Be a God is a wonderful SF novel, full of interesting ideas and moral debates. My only complain would be that it ended sooner than I expected. I do appreciate the economy of the writing. A short novel can convey a lot if a writer is skillful and this one certainly does raises many interesting questions. However, I was left wanting more. I wanted to know more about the characters, about the future societies it describes and etc. I have a feeling that the novel ended mid sentence. I don't mind an ambiguous ending, but I hoped for something more towards the end. Nevertheless, this is still a great novel and one that I would recommend to everyone.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dangermousie

    It's intelligent, and philosophical, and it makes you angry, and it makes you think, and it makes you hope. It involves a planet which is in a Medieval stage of development, so Earth sends in "on the ground" observers for study purposes, who are trained to blend in. The thing is, what to a researcher on Earth "interesting development, 200 people got killed in a routine feudal coup," to the person on the ground are his friends dying. Yet, they cannot interfere, shortcircuit the curse of history a It's intelligent, and philosophical, and it makes you angry, and it makes you think, and it makes you hope. It involves a planet which is in a Medieval stage of development, so Earth sends in "on the ground" observers for study purposes, who are trained to blend in. The thing is, what to a researcher on Earth "interesting development, 200 people got killed in a routine feudal coup," to the person on the ground are his friends dying. Yet, they cannot interfere, shortcircuit the curse of history and give (e.g.) the more enlightened guys guns, as that would result in more death, more innocent people (only different ones) dying. But does standing back make you less human? When you start to see people not as individuals but as masses, there's a problem. The main character, Anton, is probably one of my favorite fictional characters ever, and the end? Wow. You see him fall apart more and more during the book, as he witnesses more and more events he knows he should not interfere in, but is morally repulsed to let proceed. He is a good man, whose humanity is outraged more and more daily, and he is teetering on the edge of losing it the whole book, (view spoiler)[and when he finally is pushed over the edge? It is wrong, and he shouldn't have done it, there is no question of that. (hide spoiler)] But there is also no question that if he did not act, he would forfeit a claim to his own humanity, because it would be inhuman not to have a snapping point. And of course his actions do not make it better. The book really does make a point that people as people, matter. For example, Kira is not even a blip in a history book, she didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. But of course, she was the world to Anton, (view spoiler)[and her loss is not better for him because history does not care one way or another. (hide spoiler)] And every person who died in any of these events historians record, routine palace coups, book burnings, little wars, really mattered to somebody. But, and that's why I love it, interference does not make it better for others. These people are not ready for modernity. Interference allows you to save your own humanity, but no more. I don't know how something so hopeless comes across as so hopeful, but it does.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    I was fascinated by the sound of this when I came across it in the library, because I really liked Roadside Picnic, and because the foreword mentions parallels with Star Trek and Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels. However, I found this… pretty much unreadable. There’s a sort of opaqueness I associate with reading Russian novels in translations, but in spades. Supposedly, this translation is much more readable than the old one, which was done via German, but… if that’s the case, I hate to think what I was fascinated by the sound of this when I came across it in the library, because I really liked Roadside Picnic, and because the foreword mentions parallels with Star Trek and Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels. However, I found this… pretty much unreadable. There’s a sort of opaqueness I associate with reading Russian novels in translations, but in spades. Supposedly, this translation is much more readable than the old one, which was done via German, but… if that’s the case, I hate to think what the old one was like. It’s really disappointing, honestly, because the foreword makes it sound interesting, it’s blurbed by Ursula Le Guin, and the parallels mentioned are there. But I couldn’t even hold onto the meaning of the action — why did this character say that, what was the significance of that… I might try again at some other time, maybe with the other translation, or with some future translation. The setting itself — being fairly traditional-fantasy-esque — doesn’t bother me, and I did, as I said, enjoy Roadside Picnic. Hm. Originally posted here.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Milo

    I have been delaying this review for a while now. I wanted to do the Strugatsky's justice but I just haven't been able to come up with anything intelligent or witty to relate to you in honor of their work. All I can say is read the book, you won't regret it. The Story It starts off very symbolically with some kids playing on a one way street; this mirrors evolution and history. All these things flow in one direction and travel along with their own unalterable velocities. Now lets suppose that evol I have been delaying this review for a while now. I wanted to do the Strugatsky's justice but I just haven't been able to come up with anything intelligent or witty to relate to you in honor of their work. All I can say is read the book, you won't regret it. The Story It starts off very symbolically with some kids playing on a one way street; this mirrors evolution and history. All these things flow in one direction and travel along with their own unalterable velocities. Now lets suppose that evolution follows a linear course. Every planet capable of housing life develops similar lifeforms as our Earth with the primates ultimately adapting into primitive versions of the human race. We superior humans, who have attained the pinnacle of perfection, ship some of our own off to these developing planets to observe and indirectly help speed along the progress of the various indigenous peoples. And so the story begins. Anton is covertly trying to further the medieval age humans with his fellow comrades. They quickly discover that evolution does not come as easily to a people who aren't ready for it. If fact the social evolution of these alien civilizations worked in the opposite direction than they had initially thought. The ignorance and prejudices of the day work against them while the effects of culture shock begin mounting. After several years spent in vain Anton begins seeing the people as little more than savages fit for being abandoned or destroyed. His mental condition gently starts to deteriorate as he spends time in a vastly different environment than he is accustomed to. He yearns for his home planet but must fulfill his responsibility to the people. It truly is hard to be a god, he realizes. The Writing One word. Seamless. The Strugatsky combo of Boris and Arkady is so dynamic and well-meshed that I had no idea when I made the transition from one writers work to then next. I have read many works written by dual authors and it has always been relatively simple to spot the parts where one author passed the pen to the other. Not so with Boris and Arkady! (Maybe it's solely a brother/sister thing) Another thing that I always find pleasing is the structure of the sentences in stories originally written in Russian. There was something distinct added to the story when long flowing sentences were used to depict the thoughts of the author. I find this to generally be the sign of talented Russians writers. Final Summation: I promise you'll like this book. If you don't it's short so you won't hate me too much.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    I've waited a long time to read this book, due to its rarity and price, but it was thankfully recently republished and I had to get my hands on it, being such a fan of Soviet science-fiction and the Strugatsky brothers in particular (Roadside Picnic... So good). This novel imagines that Earth achieved perfect Communism, and the Moscow Historical Society sends agents out to other worlds to guide the development of the human condition with a subtle invisible hand. The protagonist, Don Rumata, is on I've waited a long time to read this book, due to its rarity and price, but it was thankfully recently republished and I had to get my hands on it, being such a fan of Soviet science-fiction and the Strugatsky brothers in particular (Roadside Picnic... So good). This novel imagines that Earth achieved perfect Communism, and the Moscow Historical Society sends agents out to other worlds to guide the development of the human condition with a subtle invisible hand. The protagonist, Don Rumata, is one such cosmonaut/agent, and discovers it is indeed 'Hard to be a God,' watching in dismay as the intelligentsia and dissident ideas are destroyed by the forces of Don Reba (originally Don Rebia, an all too obvious anagram of the infamous Beria of the USSR). I love that the Strugatsky brothers were able to publish such brilliant and incisive literature in a repressive communist society under the guise of criticizing feudalism's treatment of freedom of speech, the fate of freethinkers, innovators, and the intelligentsia. The book also provides room for philosophical thought, as Don Rumata talks with a persecuted doctor/thinker about what he would ask God to do about the problem of evil and the human condition, with Rumata playing the role of God explaining why each well-intentioned intervention would ultimately fail. Another philosophical conversation follows Don Rumata's conversation with 'Arata the Beautiful,' a man fighting for freedom from tyranny and oppression who asks Rumata to provide him with the proverbial 'fire from heaven' with which to strike down all the oppressors. Once again, Rumata realizes his limitations as a God, and though Arata was a man before his time, he could not oblige his request; causing Arata to tell Rumata that it would be better if he and his comrades had never come at all. A wonderful novel about oppression, the human condition, evil, satire, and imagination.

  12. 5 out of 5

    [P]

    One of the things that makes alien contact attractive is the possibility of interacting with a species more advanced than our own. Outside of films, whenever we think of aliens we tend to see them as superior beings, with great knowledge to impart, more sophisticated technology, etc. In the Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic the Russian brothers cleverly played on this idea, with the visitors being completely disinterested in human beings, suggesting, you might argue, a kind of haughtiness in their at One of the things that makes alien contact attractive is the possibility of interacting with a species more advanced than our own. Outside of films, whenever we think of aliens we tend to see them as superior beings, with great knowledge to impart, more sophisticated technology, etc. In the Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic the Russian brothers cleverly played on this idea, with the visitors being completely disinterested in human beings, suggesting, you might argue, a kind of haughtiness in their attitude towards us. But what if it is not the case? What if contact was made and it turned out that we are actually the more advanced species? Looking around me, that strikes me as really quite a depressing thought. In any case, this is the situation in Hard to be a God, only the alien planet is not simply primitive, relative to earth, but is essentially earth with the clock turned back thousands of years to the middle ages. Upon discovery of this planet human beings have taken to sending observers to live amongst the natives. The reason for this never seems particularly clear, but it is stressed to these people that their task is limited to observation, that they must not interfere or intervene, and they certainly should not reveal their purpose or real identity. Most of the agents find these rules easy enough to stick to, with the notable exception being Rumata [earth name Anton]. For me, this is one of the great existential novels, with Rumata's emotional and intellectual crisis being as intense, and unrelenting, as any of Dostoevsky’s antiheroes. His role, or part, is as a womanising nobleman and dangerous, expert swordsman. In this he fails, not only because he isn’t allowed to kill anyone, but also because he cannot bear to sleep with any of the native women, who are not prone to bathing. More interestingly, he is a superior, more evolved being, who every day is forced to live amongst, to confront, the barbarous, drunken, and primitive. Moreover, the city is run by the tyrannical Don Reba, who plots and kills, and generally brutalises the locals, paying particular attention to the literate, who are captured and hung. It is in relation to this that one begins to understand the significance of the title. [From Aleksei German’s film adaptation of the book] Rumata is the God [in fact numerous characters believe him to be divine] who has the power and knowledge to alter what is happening, even put a stop to it altogether. The dilemma that he faces is a theological one, is one that is generally thought to be God’s. Think about how often you hear people cussing God, criticising Him for not doing something to prevent certain tragedies. When bad things happen He is charged with not caring, with abandoning his children. The counter argument is that if you force people to be good, then goodness essentially becomes meaningless, and if you stop all disasters, if only positive things ever happen, you prevent people from learning through adversity. God, it is said, created free will, and created the world, and then left us all to it, come what may, and this is the best thing for us. These are some of the issues Hard to be a God asks you to consider. Furthermore, Rumata is aware that he cannot make people enlightened. He could remove Don Reba, he could save individual lives [and he does], but this will actually change nothing, or very little, because the people will still be primitive. On this, I was put in mind of certain conflicts, which are deemed humanitarian, whereby the UK and/or US government has invaded countries and sought to remove a tyrannical regime, with Iraq being the most obvious example. I’m not, I ought to point out, calling Iraqis primitive, but there are parallels between that situation and Hard to be a God, as both raise questions about how much of a responsibility do we have to protect other nations, and how worthwhile is it if you cannot guarantee that the people will accept the new conditions and way of living? There is, moreover, something of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness about the Strugatsky’s book, in that there is a certain arrogance in going into another country [or planet, in this instance] and negatively judging it against your own. In fact, Hard to be a God could be interpreted as a comment on colonial arrogance, because it suggests that perhaps ‘uncivilised’ countries ought to be left alone, be allowed to develop and work things out on their own. “And no matter how much the gray people in power despise knowledge, they can’t do anything about historical objectivity; they can slow it down, but they can’t stop it.” It ought to be clear by now that this is a weighty, complex book. I have in this review really only tentatively jabbed at all the fascinating themes and ideas contained with in it [I haven’t, for example, discussed the cyclical nature of history]. However, one thing that does demand some attention is the theory that Hard to be a God is political allegory, that the world it describes is really Russia in the 1960’s, the decade in which it was written. This is given weight by the Strugatsky’s themselves, who claimed to have started the book as a kind of Three Musketeers in Space-type historical romp, only to change their minds. They did so, it is said, due to fears that the death of Stalin, and 'the thaw' that followed, had done little to change the climate of the country, that artists and their art were still under attack, would be suppressed etc. Yet while there is clearly some of this in the book – specifically Don Reba’s hatred for writers and the literate – I feel it is reaching somewhat to suggest that this is the real or primary focus. Before finishing I want to briefly touch upon a couple of negatives, one more serious than the other. The first is that Hard to be a God is essentially plotless, and pretty repetitive. You will, I’m sure, have your own tolerance levels where this sort of thing is concerned, but it didn’t particularly bother me. More of an issue was the ending, which felt rushed to me. It was as though the Strugatsky’s had simply taken on too much, too many big questions, and couldn’t figure out how to neatly tie up their narrative, and so it ends at an arbitrary point. Yet while this is a criticism it is, in a way, also a kind of compliment too, because I wanted the book to be longer, I wanted another couple of hundred pages so that we [the reader and the authors] could really, fully ride this engrossing and challenging story out and so achieve a more natural and rewarding conclusion.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul Sánchez Keighley

    A thoroughly satisfying, creative and intelligent book. This is a book about history made even more interesting by the fact that it’s told through a Marxist lens. This is what I want when I read books from other cultures; books that give me an insight into other ideologies or ways of thinking. I’m tired of Soviet writers idolised in the West because they secretly disparaged against the regime. I get it. Now give me a stiff glass of Soviet bardcore sci-fi! I might as well add I came to this book b A thoroughly satisfying, creative and intelligent book. This is a book about history made even more interesting by the fact that it’s told through a Marxist lens. This is what I want when I read books from other cultures; books that give me an insight into other ideologies or ways of thinking. I’m tired of Soviet writers idolised in the West because they secretly disparaged against the regime. I get it. Now give me a stiff glass of Soviet bardcore sci-fi! I might as well add I came to this book by way of the Aleksei German film adaptation, a film I would only recommend to seasoned cinephiles, as it’s a three-hour-long black-and-white mostly atmospheric and borderline incomprehensible Russian monstrosity. The book, on the other hand, while still revolting and plot-thin, is a light and riveting read, especially in this new translation by Olena Bormashenko (older translations are reportedly terrible). The premise is brilliant and perfectly executed. In the far future, Earth has become a Communist utopia, and when man sets out to explore the stars, they discover human life is developing on other planets as well. Observers are then sent to supervise and study the evolution of history on these other planets as they make their slow but (according to Marxist theory) inexorable way towards Communism. All this is mere context and hardly mentioned. They don’t milk the fact that our hero is a future spaceman on a primitive alien planet. And that’s great. The focus of the story is on this man’s immersion into local society and it wouldn’t be half as effective if it kept making spacey sci-fi remarks. From the get-go, we are thrown in media fucking res into the messy, strinking, muddy, bloody, drunken cesspool that is Arkanar, a city stuck in the mediaeval ages. The book follows the day-to-day life of our observer, posing as a local baron, as he does his best to not intervene while he watches the godless turmoil of history in motion. Most interesting of all is the character study of the villain, don Reba, a thinly veiled personification of Beria, the depraved, double-crossing minister of Internal Affairs under Stalin. He emerged out of some musty basement of the palace bureaucracy three years ago, a petty, insignificant functionary, obsequious and pallid, with an almost bluish tint to his skin. Soon the then-First Minister was suddenly arrested and executed, a number of horror-stricken and bewildered officials died during torture, and this tenacious, ruthless genius of mediocrity grew like a pale fungus on their corpses. Damn that’s good. And the echoes of the chaos following Stalin’s death make for a wonderful piece of hidden nerdfuel. Will read more by the Strugatsky bros. Love it, love it, love it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    To those who read *that crappy SCI-FI jazz* in quest to run away From grim reality of life - I must, in truth, to say This piece is not, my friends, at all your regular fantastic tale It is much deeper, it was written to unveil How cruel, ignorant, barbaric we still are - at large, as Human Race How progress strides its winding roads in slow, painful pace 1. Memorable 5 2. Social Relevance 5 3. Informative 3 4. Originality 5 5. Thought Provoking 5 6. Expressiveness 4 7. Entertaining 5 8. Visualization 2 9. S To those who read *that crappy SCI-FI jazz* in quest to run away From grim reality of life - I must, in truth, to say This piece is not, my friends, at all your regular fantastic tale It is much deeper, it was written to unveil How cruel, ignorant, barbaric we still are - at large, as Human Race How progress strides its winding roads in slow, painful pace 1. Memorable 5 2. Social Relevance 5 3. Informative 3 4. Originality 5 5. Thought Provoking 5 6. Expressiveness 4 7. Entertaining 5 8. Visualization 2 9. Sparks Emotion 5 10. Life Changing (Pivotal, crucial, determining, defining, momentous, fateful, consequential, climacteric, transformational) 1 5,5,3,5,5,4,5,2,5,1 ======>> 40/10 = 4.0 http://www.goodreads.com/poll/show/51... http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A2%D... One of the reviews, which I have seen, says that the mission was "to help speed along the progress of the various indigenous peoples". To clarify above, as I recall it, the book says that the mission was ONLY to watch and that interference with the natural historical and social development on that planet was strictly prohibited (with the exception to allow some concealed limited humanitarian actions in saving lives of artists and scientists). It is important to stress that Strugatskys did not mean "active" "hands-on" God - they meant the God, who never interferes and instead only observes - and that is WHY for humans it is hard to be such a God! Probably it is also hard (;-) ) for English language reviewers to appreciate the enormous amount of humor encapsulated in this book, which is probably lost in translation. Here is the example of such humor ... `Румата перенес отца Кабани на скрипучие нары, стянул с него башмаки, повернул на правый бок и накрыл облысевшей шкурой какого-то давно вымершего животного. При этом отец Кабани на минуту проснулся. Двигаться он не мог, соображать тоже. Он ограничился тем, что пропел несколько стихов из запрещённого к распеванию светского романса "Я как цветочек аленький в твоей ладошке маленькой", после чего гулко захрапел.` АБС "Трудно быть Богом" `Rumata moved father Kabani on squeaky bunk, pulled off his shoes, turned on the right side and covered the bald skin of some long-extinct animal. At this point, the father Kabani for a moment awakened. He could not move and had not an ability to think. He contented himself by vocalizing several verses from the prohibited to sing secular romance "I am like a scarlet flower in your little palm", then began to snore loudly.` ABS "Hard to Be God"

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stacey

    Written by two Russian brothers in the mid-20th century in response to political pressure on art and artistic works under Khrushchev, Hard to be a God is about one man's struggle with the questions of how far to go to save others and live by his moral code, and if he can observe without interfering. The main character in this novel, known mostly as Don Rumata, is a 'historian' who has been placed on a more primitive world to live in and observe the feudal culture that exists there. In kind of a T Written by two Russian brothers in the mid-20th century in response to political pressure on art and artistic works under Khrushchev, Hard to be a God is about one man's struggle with the questions of how far to go to save others and live by his moral code, and if he can observe without interfering. The main character in this novel, known mostly as Don Rumata, is a 'historian' who has been placed on a more primitive world to live in and observe the feudal culture that exists there. In kind of a Truman Show way, a camera placed in a gold circlet on his head reports everything he sees, his interactions, the daily life of the people. This culture that he witnesses is a mix of medieval feudalism and 20th century totalitarianism, with secret police and attacks on literate, artistic individuals - writers, poets, artists, musicians, scientists, philosophers, etc. The story kind of drops its readers in the midst of Don Rumata's work. He's been an undercover historian for some time, and has been made sick to his soul by the atrocities committed under the oppressive regime. His dilemma: ordered to observe and never interfere, he feels compelled to rescue the members of the intelligentsia that he can. His role as don, or noble, is to drink and fool around with other dons and ladies, and he finds the company of the other nobles stultifying and dull. When he's not carousing, he tries to avoid the grey police, the ones who arrest and hang the 'bookworms,' as the intelligentsia are called. This novel explores several interesting issues, such as political control of art and science and intellect, how totalitarian regimes affect their subjects, what sparks rebellion, when to prevent (or not at all) abuse, and what consequences acting "for the greater good" might have. In general, these issues aren't explored deeply, but the novel does pose the questions, leaving it up to the readers to think about it further. There is a thesis - that stifling art and science and culture ruins individuals' lives, but more importantly it destroys the society as a whole. As a science fiction novel, I enjoyed Hard to be a God. It's a mix of bleakness and humor, action and silliness. The premise is interesting: sending 'operatives' to other, less-developed worlds, to study the cultures and societies that live there. The world-building is unique and convincing, a mix of Spanish and Russian cultures, medieval society and mid-century communism that have taken on their own characteristics and become a grey, depressing, and dangerous civilization. I struggled with the only female characters - one, an unscrupulous and promiscuous woman who, it is implied, "deserved what she got," and the weak saint, who is helpless without the main character and so honest and simple and true and everything else. Clearly, we have the Madonna and the whore stereotypes here, and no other female characters to balance them out. The characterizations of women are weak, insubstantial, and decidedly unoriginal. The other thing I found difficult was how distanced I felt from the story. For whatever reason, I never felt fully engaged or absorbed. Don Rumata's difficulties were thought-provoking, but the immediacy of the action was filtered too heavily by his narration. Additionally, it seemed like a clip had been taken from Don Rumata's life and work as an operative. As readers, we never really learn about how it was for him before the events that take place in the book. The context of his own life is hard to perceive. Overall, this book gives readers an interesting glimpse into classic science fiction from Russia. If you're looking for a diverse perspective, that would definitely qualify. An adventurous, dark tale that questions the results of totalitarianism, it is not difficult to read. I would recommend this book for fans of classic science fiction and more literary science fiction. See my post on The Book Adventures for read-alikes.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Simon Hollway

    Oh dear. Roadside Picnic is an astonishing novel - Hard to be a God is a shocking misfire. Maybe it was the new translation only just released - 2014 Bormashenko translation published by Chicago Review Press. As soon as I smacked up against the word 'ballyhooed', I knew I was in for a rocky ride. Actually, come to think of it, even the newly commissioned 'Foreword' to the book by Hari Kunzru read like a C-grade student essay...and I quote, 'this is no reactionary celebration of aristocratic derr Oh dear. Roadside Picnic is an astonishing novel - Hard to be a God is a shocking misfire. Maybe it was the new translation only just released - 2014 Bormashenko translation published by Chicago Review Press. As soon as I smacked up against the word 'ballyhooed', I knew I was in for a rocky ride. Actually, come to think of it, even the newly commissioned 'Foreword' to the book by Hari Kunzru read like a C-grade student essay...and I quote, 'this is no reactionary celebration of aristocratic derring-do.' Yep, the clues were there at the start. Cod medieval fantasy served up in heavy-handed political satire. Might possibly appeal to the Hunger Games crowd. Have no idea why this has so many good reviews...it must be me. A quick scan of most of the reviewers' thumbnail pics suggests a younger, less photoshopped crowd plus a number of cats but even they look pretty fresh. So I'm thinking that this is essentially a young adults' or a young cats' book. Don't get me wrong, I like young adults but only to look at or touch, not to actively converse or share reading lists with. I was initially intrigued by the comparisons with Iain Banks. In retrospect, those observations are at best sacrilegious but more likely libellous and the work of Satan. But Roadside Picnic was so very, very good?!! No, it must be the translation. Or is it the book?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rick Slane

    Somethings must have been lost in translation. Proper names and places evoked the wrong meanings for me so maybe it's my fault I didn't enjoy it more.For example here's some of my poor rewrite: "Paul Anka won't drive his Tonka truck on the Forgotten Highway to Marshall Fields! Kia is a bookworm running away from Arkansas to Iraq," Red Skelton bellowed, as he passed the Ramada Inn."Don Imus never takes a bath and corporations are people too,"cursed Holy Moses. Welcome Wagon's people apologized to Somethings must have been lost in translation. Proper names and places evoked the wrong meanings for me so maybe it's my fault I didn't enjoy it more.For example here's some of my poor rewrite: "Paul Anka won't drive his Tonka truck on the Forgotten Highway to Marshall Fields! Kia is a bookworm running away from Arkansas to Iraq," Red Skelton bellowed, as he passed the Ramada Inn."Don Imus never takes a bath and corporations are people too,"cursed Holy Moses. Welcome Wagon's people apologized to Don Imus. I know this is bad but it's my perception of the translation I read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Manday

    It is unfortunate this book is so hard to get a hold of, as I found it an excellent (albeit confusing) read. It tackles huge, universal themes - the nature of man kind, the course of history, the role of man in society, and many other things. I think it should be considered a classic.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alexander

    What would it be like to live in a world far back on the historical track, when you have access to an advanced civilization's powers? This is a classic science fiction question. It might be most famous from Star Trek's Prime Directive. Iain Banks explored it in at least one novel. It's present in many time travel narratives, when people explore the past. In Hard to Be a God the Strugatsky brothers offer their take, and the result is a powerful novel. It takes place on an Earthlike world peopled by What would it be like to live in a world far back on the historical track, when you have access to an advanced civilization's powers? This is a classic science fiction question. It might be most famous from Star Trek's Prime Directive. Iain Banks explored it in at least one novel. It's present in many time travel narratives, when people explore the past. In Hard to Be a God the Strugatsky brothers offer their take, and the result is a powerful novel. It takes place on an Earthlike world peopled by what are effectively humans, living in a medieval society. Our point of view character is from Earth, which has attained a semi-utopian existence (part of the author's Noon Universe). Anton/"Don Rumata" is an agent for a historical society, assigned to observe this backwards civilization, but not to interfere (a la Star Trek). The tension of the novel comes from the awful psychological pressure of that mission. The Strugatskii vividly depict a hellish society. Even though they carefully add comic and lovely elements, the Kingdom of Arkanar is no charming Tolkien setting. It's a shambles of cruelty and squalor, ruthlessly quashing the human spirit and fighting hard to block advances. There are fascist aspects, in fact, and named as such. We can sympathize with Anton's desire to intervene, to help, to uplift. Anton's internal struggle is nicely interwoven with emerging political plots. I don't want to spoil them here, but there are many schemes in play. Our hero has to observe them and try, somehow, to mitigate their worst effects. Like classic spy stories, he starts becoming his cover story. Hard to Be a God draws on many science fictional tropes. The two worlds idea is deeply familiar, of course. The gap between advanced and not so advanced societies dates back centuries. The critique of various forms of medievalism is another sf theme - indeed, you can read the book as science fiction arguing against fantasy's love for an imaginary middle ages. There are, of course, Soviet dimensions to Hard to Be a God. On the one hand we can read it as a committed work of Soviet art. The main character is heroic, Russian, based in Moscow; his understanding of history is clearly that of the USSR's, with societies marching forward along a Marxist track. He does not criticize his own world, save to wish it could act more effectively to help others. There is a light Leninist aspect, with Anton insisting on the vital importance of intellectuals in advancing history. No country can develop without science... Without arts and general culture, the country loses its capacity for self-criticism, begins to encourage faulty tendencies, starts to constantly spawn hypocrites and scum, develops consumerism and conceit in its citizens, and eventually again becomes a victim of its more sensible neighbors. Persecute bookworms all you like, prohibit science, and destroy art, but sooner or later you'll be forced to think better of it... (146)And there are echoes to mid-century Soviet foreign policy, which increasingly reached out to the developing world in struggle with the United States. Moreover, religion appears solely as a force for ignorance, power, and brutality. On the other hand, the novel's plot doesn't fit the historical theory. Arkanar does not advance at all. No renaissance is evident. Intellectuals are useless. In fact, (view spoiler)[the climactic social revolution is actually a theocratic coup, arguably making things even worse. The best we can see is the hero saving one good person while losing another. And he apparently regains his utopian humanity, according to the last lines. (hide spoiler)] Perhaps the book quietly argues that the Soviet model of history is not a reliable one. Further, the novel's antagonist, Don Reba, suggests for me Stalin's head of secret policy, Beria. And the quote from the preceding paragraph easily describes various forms of Soviet repression. On a related note, Anton and one Dr. Budach argue about the effects of vast power and society in a dialogue late in the book. Budach presses for intervention, calling on a state's might to reform a population. Anton parries this by showing how each such effort would fail or backfire. The conclusion is remarkably suspicious of authority, recalling anarchist thinking as well as science fiction works like Watchmen or LeGuin's Lathe of Heaven. I haven't read this in Russian, so I can't speak to the translation's quality. The prose is very engaging. As befits a thoughtful, even philosophical sf novel, there are many reflective passages worth dwelling upon:"The essence of man," Budach said, chewing slowly, "lies in his astonishing ability to get used to anything. There's nothing in nature that man could not learn to live with... Probably God, as he was creating man, guessed the torment he was condemning him to and gave him an enormous reserve of strength and patience. It is difficult to say whether this is good or bad. (205)At the same time the text pulses with energy. Descriptions are vibrant, character interactions fascinating, and the whole moves forward quite engagingly. I hope the 21st century remembers and enjoys novels like this, as the Soviet experiment recedes into the past.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    I’d never heard of the Strugatsky brothers until I read a review of this 1964 novel by someone I follow on GR. I thought I’d give it a try and it worked well for me. It’s the 22nd century and humanity has an advanced technology. The lead character, Anton, generally referred to in the book by his alter ego of “Don Rumata” is one of 250 humans sent as undercover observers to an alien world with a human population and a level of development similar to medieval Europe. Although their technology gives I’d never heard of the Strugatsky brothers until I read a review of this 1964 novel by someone I follow on GR. I thought I’d give it a try and it worked well for me. It’s the 22nd century and humanity has an advanced technology. The lead character, Anton, generally referred to in the book by his alter ego of “Don Rumata” is one of 250 humans sent as undercover observers to an alien world with a human population and a level of development similar to medieval Europe. Although their technology gives them near-godlike powers in relation to the locals, Anton and his colleagues are prohibited from intervening in the natural development of the alien society. For Anton this becomes more and more difficult when the novel’s villain, “Don Reba”, makes a grab for power and arrests, tortures and executes many of Anton’s friends. It is “hard to be a god”. On one level this is a straight adventure story, but there are a number of sub-texts. In the original draft of the novel Reba’s name was “Rebia”, but the authors were advised to change it as it was too transparent an anagram of “Beria”. The humans believe that societies progress in predictable ways according to something called “Basis Theory”, which must be adhered to even if the evidence in front of the observers’ eyes tells them otherwise. The parallels with Marxist theory are obvious. The character of Reba particularly targets literate and educated people, described in the novel as “bookworms”. I was struck by how much this aspect resembled what I have read about the targeting of such people in China’s Cultural Revolution, the regime of the Khmer Rouge, and the ISIS Caliphate, even though when the Strugatsky brothers wrote the book, all these horrors were yet to happen. The edition I read contains an Afterword from Boris Strugatsky, who describes the hostility of the Soviet establishment. The brothers were accused of “abstraction” (gasp!), and “surrealism”, even of “pornography”, although the novel remained in publication and as its co-author comments: “The novel, we must admit, was a success. Some readers found in it adventures reminiscent of The Three Musketeers, others cool science fiction. Teenagers liked the exciting plot, the intelligentsia the dissident ideas and attacks on totalitarianism.” That’s a better summary than I can come up with.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    ....The Strugatsky brothers approach science fiction in a very different way than western authors would and that alone makes it a shame that many of their books are out of print. They make a case for more attention to translations if my opinion. There are many more ways to look at science fiction that what the English-speaking world has to offer. Hard To Be a God is, a book that hides a lot under the fast paced surface of the story. Roadside Picnic remains their best known work but I don't think ....The Strugatsky brothers approach science fiction in a very different way than western authors would and that alone makes it a shame that many of their books are out of print. They make a case for more attention to translations if my opinion. There are many more ways to look at science fiction that what the English-speaking world has to offer. Hard To Be a God is, a book that hides a lot under the fast paced surface of the story. Roadside Picnic remains their best known work but I don't think there is much between that book and Hard To Be a God to be honest. It is a work of science fiction that certainly deserves its place in the Masterworks list. Full Random Comments review

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ogostos

    Reread it recently, after some fifteen years, and my verdict is this book is truly a masterpiece

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lubinka Dimitrova

    3,5 stars.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bryan--Pumpkin Connoisseur

    Probably closer to 3.5 I know the Strugatski's have a large following--this is the first opportunity I've had to read their work. Although I enjoyed it, I think I expected a bit more complexity. Earth scientist/historians are embedded in a feudal-type society on another planet to test their hypothesis about historical laws. While they have specific advantages with their advanced technology, they are not allowed to interfere in any major way with events they may be caught up in--even when they are Probably closer to 3.5 I know the Strugatski's have a large following--this is the first opportunity I've had to read their work. Although I enjoyed it, I think I expected a bit more complexity. Earth scientist/historians are embedded in a feudal-type society on another planet to test their hypothesis about historical laws. While they have specific advantages with their advanced technology, they are not allowed to interfere in any major way with events they may be caught up in--even when they are forced to witness the most inhuman barbarism. The main character, Don Rumata/Anton, finds it hard to stay above the fray, musing on the nature of humanity, and what it will take for a society raised in ignorance to eventually pull itself up by its bootstraps and become fully human. Probably the most interesting aspect of the novel to me was trying to determine if the Strugatski's were critiquing the Soviet system; also how these 'future' soviets were trying to reconcile their historical laws with what they were observing. In this particular society, we are plunked down into a war against intellectuals (bookworms) by the ignorant 'Gray Militias', and I couldn't help thinking of other periods in history when Marxist thinkers have also fought against the intelligentsia (specifically I thought of the Chinese Cultural Revolution). Anyway...the Strugatski's were able to get their work published in the Soviet Union, so if they were critiquing their own society, they were subtle about it. It may be less a specific critique than it is meant to make one think, which it did, so hats off for that. What made me finally pull this down and read it was the fairly recent film adaptation, which I saw not long ago. The film played up every disgusting aspect one can think of when thinking of what it might have been like to actually live in the Middle Ages, and then seems to want to dial the disgustingness up to 11. I was barely able to watch it, and I was curious if the image I had in my mind of the Strugatskis had been completely wrong. What I found was that the book certainly alluded to unpleasant aspects of feudal life, but maintained a level of decorum that the film seemed to throw out the window (with its chamber pot, I guess). So, if anyone had been interested in the book, but was turned off by the film, I would say that they would find less filth (in the literal sense) in the book, and less confusion as well.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Para (wanderer)

    This book started well enough. The prose was quite good, with nice descriptions of scenery, the issues raised were interesting. We follow Rumata, an observer from future utopian Earth, sent to a medieval world with a couple others under a strict rule of non-interference (no killing, etc), but secretly trying to help speed up their development. It’s fairly kitchen sink, some sci-fi tech, some medieval swashbuckling, bit of everything. The conflict arises when regime in Arkanar start killing intel This book started well enough. The prose was quite good, with nice descriptions of scenery, the issues raised were interesting. We follow Rumata, an observer from future utopian Earth, sent to a medieval world with a couple others under a strict rule of non-interference (no killing, etc), but secretly trying to help speed up their development. It’s fairly kitchen sink, some sci-fi tech, some medieval swashbuckling, bit of everything. The conflict arises when regime in Arkanar start killing intellectuals. Rumata knows this is wrong, yet is plagued by doubts - he is not allowed to kill and not convinced it would solve the problem. Persecute bookworms all you like, prohibit science, and destroy art, but sooner or later you’ll be forced to think better of it, and with much gnashing of teeth open the way for everything that is so hated by power-hungry dullards and blockheads. This, likely, has some parallels with what was going on in Soviet Russia at the time, but exploring that aspect is better left to someone else who’s more than just vaguely familiar with its history. I suspect this is the aspect where the book shines the most, but without proper background, it’s pointless for me to go into it. And when you leave that out…there’s not much left. As I said, I did like it at first. Highlighting everything. But a little over halfway in, it started getting on my nerves slightly. Then a little bit more. And more. And snowballed until I was yelling in frustration to anyone who’d listen. Despite it being a short book, it took me four days to read it. The idea of someone with near-godlike powers sent into an imperfect world and trying to do the right thing is fascinating and raises all sorts of good questions. There’s a lot of food for thought in there. But the execution, to me, left a lot to be desired and didn’t age very well. Rumata himself is not very likable and comes off as a bit of a hypocrite, self-righteously above it all, waiting for things to get better on their own. Killing innocent intellectuals? A lot of hand-wringing and inner monologue. Threats to the ones he loves? Threatening a rampage right back. Plus, the mentality towards the people of Arkanar is quite…patronising, similar to the attitude colonialists had, minus the racism and wanting to rule them directly. To him, they’re inferior, he doesn’t really see them as people and says as much, but more as works in progress without any agency (and therefore guilt). In a way, disturbing. But also making you wonder how would an advanced alien civilisation view the world as it is now. It was probably the fact that almost without exception, they were not yet humans in the modern sense of the word, but blanks, unfinished pieces, which only the bloody centuries could one day fashion into true men, proud and free. The mix of half-adventure, half-critique doesn’t work very well either. The rest of the story is often put on pause for Rumata to go into a pages-long, ponderous inner monologue and the observations don’t seem to have much effect. Especially not on his actions. We are told that the purges are affecting the society negatively, but never really feel it. The book doesn’t really go anywhere. And the ending doesn’t resolve much, or satisfy, or improve the book either. I actually liked the initial idea for a story that’s explained in the afterword (which also provides some context) a lot more than the end result. (view spoiler)[In particular, what bothered me, is him not killing Don Reba until they went for his girlfriend. The other people from future Earth even say he should have near the end. But he doesn't. But when Kira gets killed, it's suddenly alright for him to go and stab everything and we don't even learn what are the consequences of his actions for Arkanar. And the transition to religious oppression came out of nowhere. (hide spoiler)] Another thing that left a bad taste in my mouth is the age difference - you have 35 y/o Rumata apparently in love with 18 or so y/o Kira, and his treatment of her is very...overprotective and paternalistic. I have read books with large age differences before that didn't gross me out as much, but this...I did not like it. Doesn't help that the female characters are, as in many old books, abysimal. Aside from the character that briefly appears in the prologue, they’re either pure innocent virgins, whores, eye candy, or manipulative whores who deserve death, only relevant in the context of the male characters, and to top everything off, there’s fridging too. If that’s a pet peeve, pass on the book. Enjoyment: 4/5 dropping to 2/5 Execution: 2.5/5 Recommended to: fans of old-school sci-fi and swashbuckling, those intrigued by the concept Not recommended to: those who hate passive protagonists and fridging More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nemo

    "Hard to Be a Good" of the Strugatsky brothers is a very interesting book and quite unusual to the reader who is used to the American-British science fiction. This is due to the style in which it is written, the philosophical discussions, the irony and sophisticated sociopolitical criticism expounded in the book. More surprising is the fact that this book was published in 1964 in the USSR. This is first book of the Strugatsky brothers that I read. A couple of years ago I read an English translatio "Hard to Be a Good" of the Strugatsky brothers is a very interesting book and quite unusual to the reader who is used to the American-British science fiction. This is due to the style in which it is written, the philosophical discussions, the irony and sophisticated sociopolitical criticism expounded in the book. More surprising is the fact that this book was published in 1964 in the USSR. This is first book of the Strugatsky brothers that I read. A couple of years ago I read an English translation of the book and I have just finished reading a Spanish translation of the novel. There is a big difference in text between the two translations. I did not like these translations. I can imagine that a lot of the fine irony and humor present in the book is lost in the translations, as it was expressed by some readers in their reviews. There is an interesting difference between the titles of the English and Spanish translations of the novel. In Spanish the title is "Qué difícil es ser Dios". This gives possible different interpretations of the book. As it is mentioned in the summary, the book deals with some observers (social scientists) of Earth that are undercover mission in an alien planet inhabited by humans. The level of the human civilization of this planet is similar to the Middle Ages in Earth. The authors called it feudal-fascist society. The mission of the observers is to register (and not interfere in) the political events of this society. The main character Rumata/Anton has an internal and emotional conflict due to the fact, if he should interfere in the events of the alien society in order to help the people, who are dying and suffering in this society. But his instructions are only to observe and register these events, and never get involved in them. The society shown in the alien planet has more in common with the Nazism/Stalinism, than with a feudal society of the Middle Ages. There are many direct references to the Nazism, for instance "The Gray" is a direct reference to the SA (Sturmabteilung) and "The Black Monks" refers to the SS (Schutzstaffel). The events to the fight between them is a direct reference to the "Night of the Long Knives" (Nacht der langen Messer). Moreover in the novel, it is mentioned Ernst Rhöm ("History was about to repeat itself; another one to share the fate of Captain Ernst Röhm of Nazi fame!"). However there is other interpretation of the events of the novel as a criticism of the Stalinism, as for example the persecution and extermination of the intellectuals. The interpretation of the history expounded in the book is strongly influenced by the Historical Materialism ideology. The dialogue at the end of the novel between Rumata and Budach (Budaj, in the Spanish translation) is very interesting. It is a philosophical discussion about the progress of the humanity and the nature of power. The progress and evolution of humanity it is shown as a fight agains evil. According to this dialogue the nature of God is to observe and know everything but it is powerless to change things. An interesting point of this dialogue is the following phrase: ' "Man's nature (...) is characterized by his ability to adjust to everything. There is nothing in this world that man cannot adjust to." ' This fact is crucial to understand the nature of power. And this is how the tyrants oppress their subjects, and preserve the power. It is also worth mentioning the fine irony that the authors show in the novel, through the names of different places. For instance "Tower of Joy", for a place where the dungeons are; and the authors give explanations this fact, also we can find "Boulevard of Overwhelming Gratitude" and other examples like that. This fact shows the use of language as a tool of political control. I strongly recommend this book, which has different possible interpretations. I gave only 4 stars, because I did not like the translations.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    This was great - Don Rumata is a noble who lives in the upper strata of a medieval, knowledge hating society that tortures and murders its 'bookworms', mud is everywhere a "What's this?" Rumata said in surprise. "You want us all to become monks?" Father Kin clasped his hands and leaned forward. "Allow me to explan, noble don" he said fervently, licking his lips. "It's not about that at all! It's about the basic tenets of the new state. The tenets are simple, and there are only three of them: blind This was great - Don Rumata is a noble who lives in the upper strata of a medieval, knowledge hating society that tortures and murders its 'bookworms', mud is everywhere a "What's this?" Rumata said in surprise. "You want us all to become monks?" Father Kin clasped his hands and leaned forward. "Allow me to explan, noble don" he said fervently, licking his lips. "It's not about that at all! It's about the basic tenets of the new state. The tenets are simple, and there are only three of them: blind faith in the infallibility of the laws, unquestioning obedience to these laws, and also everyone vigilantly watching everyone else." "Hmm," said Rumata. "But why?" The 'twist' is that (view spoiler)[this is not earth, Rumata is actually a historian from a future perfect Soviet Union which has sent him and a few others to observe this society via a camera around his neck, his hidden technology and training gives him superiority to others, thus the title (hide spoiler)] . Now if you're into Popper you may have heard of The Poverty of Historicism, which makes this book more fun since Rumata and his colleagues are staunch believers in historicism, yet they often hit their limits in this society ("I haven't noticed such deviations from theory..."). The murder of 'bookworms' is a clear allegory to the anti-intellectualism that was sometimes en vogue with Communist leadership - there's also a coup which is modeled after the Night Of The Long Knives (with explicit allusion by Rumata). What makes this book different from the 3 hour long depressing black & white movie from 2013 is that the book is sometimes actually funny! Ruma's clashes with society, the drunken fights his friends get into, between all the darkness and torture there are flashes of jokes. I really like this new translation, so far I've only read the older Roadside Picnic from the Strugatsky brothers and that struck me as very dry, but it looks like the same translator of this edition also released a Roadside Picnic translation just a few years ago - I'll have to read that! P.S.: bonus quotes: He emerged out of some musty basement of the palace bureaucracy three years ago, a petty, insignificant functionary, obsequious and pallid, with an almost bluish tint to his skin. Soon the then-First Minister was suddenly arrested and executed, a number of horror-stricken and bewildered officials died during torture, and this tenacious, ruthless genius of mediocrity grew like a pale fungus on their corpses. He's no one. He's from nowhere. This is not a powerful mind underneath a weak monarch, which has been known by history; not a great and terrible man who gives his life to the idea of unifying the country in the name of autocracy. This is no money-grubbing lackey, thinking only of gold and of women, killing right and left for the sake of power, and staying in power in order to kill. or this one: Without arts and general culture, the country loses its capacity for self-criticism, begins to encourage faulty tendencies, starts to constantly spawn hypocrites and scum, develops consumerism and conceit in its citizens, and eventually again becomes a victim of its more sensible neighbors. Persecute bookworms all you like, prohibit science, and destroy art, but sooner or later you'll be forced to think better of it, and with much gnashing of teeth open the way for everything that is so hated by the power-hungry dullards and blockheads.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Alberto

    The Strugatsky brothers produced a well written novel. I've enjoyed what the main character feels and how he struggles to find a way to help the people around him but without trying to change the course of events in a world in which he's an alien, coming from a more socially and technologically advanced world. It's indeed hard to be a god, in a world where most of the people enjoy drinking a lot and inflicting pain on others whose only fault is to be living in a kingdom that suppresses being human The Strugatsky brothers produced a well written novel. I've enjoyed what the main character feels and how he struggles to find a way to help the people around him but without trying to change the course of events in a world in which he's an alien, coming from a more socially and technologically advanced world. It's indeed hard to be a god, in a world where most of the people enjoy drinking a lot and inflicting pain on others whose only fault is to be living in a kingdom that suppresses being human, feeling compassionate and seeking improvements in terms of knowledge.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Yzabel Ginsberg

    I read this one for a book club discussion. I didn't like it much. - Too full of pondering instead of being in the action, and as a result, the main character didn't appear so much like a "god who doesn't know whether he should intervene or not", than like a passive observer. - The political commentary laid it a bit too tick to my tastes. It called for something more subtle. - The female characters. Only two, and basically one is a wallflower who's obviously only here to get kidnapped or whatever, I read this one for a book club discussion. I didn't like it much. - Too full of pondering instead of being in the action, and as a result, the main character didn't appear so much like a "god who doesn't know whether he should intervene or not", than like a passive observer. - The political commentary laid it a bit too tick to my tastes. It called for something more subtle. - The female characters. Only two, and basically one is a wallflower who's obviously only here to get kidnapped or whatever, and the other is the courtesan type who "gets what she deserves—and here's to notice that in spite of all his disgust for this "backward society", our hero just goes about his business knowing all too well what he'll left in his wake (and all for nothing). Granted, there's Anka, but I don't really se the point of having her in the novel at all. As a love interest? I couldn't feel anything there, so I really don't know. - The translation: I can't compare with the original text, but the prose in general felt like something had been... lost. I probably wouldn't have liked it much more had it been for a different translation; still, it sure didn't help.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andras Szalai

    Anton is an Earth scientist (a historian) sent to a distant planet inhabited by humans that are still stuck in the Middle Ages (an _extremely_ dark version of the Middle Ages). His method is participant observation: posing as playboy nobleman Rumata, he involves himself in the political intrigue of the kingdom of Arkanar. Anton-Rumata follows a watered down version of the Prime Directive: do not kill, do not interfere in the course of history. (Well, not too much.) The latter rule comes directly Anton is an Earth scientist (a historian) sent to a distant planet inhabited by humans that are still stuck in the Middle Ages (an _extremely_ dark version of the Middle Ages). His method is participant observation: posing as playboy nobleman Rumata, he involves himself in the political intrigue of the kingdom of Arkanar. Anton-Rumata follows a watered down version of the Prime Directive: do not kill, do not interfere in the course of history. (Well, not too much.) The latter rule comes directly from the dominant theory of history on Earth that sees history as a one-way, gradual process of social and technological evolution. Any major interference in its course can only lead to chaos, bloodshed and then the system correcting itself back to where it was. Witnessing the barbarism and cruelty of this world, Rumata has serious reservations about this theory, as well as his mission. The book can be read as fantasy proper (court intrigue), but interesting scifi elements also arise from this philosophical tension, Star Trek style. The philosophy of social science also rears its ugly head: how come we have excellent theories about how history has unfolded, yet are completely incapable of predicting major events? One more question to ponder: this is a Soviet novel written in 1964 that time and again suggests the impossibility of a communist revolution ontop of a feudal society. How on earth did it pass the censors? :) Unfortunately at 200 pages the book is way too short to sufficiently delve into its philosophical problems, and thus left me wanting more. The other issue is that, though Rumata is a very interesting and likeable protagonist, the only female character in the book--the love interest meant to represent purity and innocence in a cruel world--falls horribly flat, borders on sexism and simply cannot sell their relationship. Despite these minor flaws, the book made me think, and that's exactly what I look for with scifi. 3.5 stars

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