Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are widely known as the greatest Russian writers of science fiction, and their 1964 novel Hard to Be a God is considered one of the greatest of their works.
It tells the story of Don Rumata, who is sent from Earth to the medieval kingdom of Arkanar with instructions to observe and to influence, but never to directly interfere. Masquerading as an arrogant nobleman, a dueler and a brawler, Don Rumata is never defeated but 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?
Hard to Be a God has inspired a computer role-playing game and two movies, including Aleksei German's long-awaited swan song. Yet until now the only English version (out of print for over thirty years) was based on a German translation, and was full of errors, infelicities, and misunderstandings. This new edition—translated by Olena Bormashenko, whose translation of the authors' Roadside Picnic has received widespread acclaim, and supplemented with a new foreword by Hari Kunzru and an afterword by Boris Strugatsky, both of which supply much-needed context—reintroduces one of the most profound Soviet-era novels to an eager audience.
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.