cover image Hard to Be a God

Hard to Be a God

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, trans. from the Russian by Olena Bormashenko. Chicago Review (IPG, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-61374-828-2

Bormashenko’s rewarding new translation of this slim 1964 novel makes available a regrettably obscure Cold War–era hybrid of SF and satire. Anton is disguised as aristocratic Don Rumata and sent to the archaic planet Arkanar by enlightened Communist historians from the future. Anton is instructed to only observe and not intervene (“like a god”) as cruel Don Reba, First Minister to the King, orders the murder of intellectuals and artists whose individuality threatens state authority. This dark allegory of unrestrained governmental power lauds the pens that battle swords. Communism is unsubtly attacked beneath a veneer of escapism. While some overly adolescent humor minimizes emotional intensity, themes of culpability and responsibility remain effective. The Strugatsky brothers (Roadside Picnic) use Anton’s struggle between impartiality and interfering as the emotional bridge connecting time travel whimsy with mature soul-searching. The unadorned prose cloaks rich ideas, illustrating the ability of imaginative literature to probe troubling moral questions. This edition includes an informative introduction by Hari Kunzru and an afterword by Boris Strugatsky. (June)