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Hard to be a God (A Continuum book) by…

Hard to be a God (A Continuum book) (original 1964; edition 1973)

by Arkady Strugatsky

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3781528,382 (3.76)18
Title:Hard to be a God (A Continuum book)
Authors:Arkady Strugatsky
Info:Seabury Press (1973), Unknown Binding
Collections:Your library
Tags:russian, eastern_bloc, sf, read, own, magyarul

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Hard to be a god by Arkady Strugatsky (1964)

  1. 10
    Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (prezzey)
    prezzey: Banks seems to have been inspired by the Strugatskys' concept of Progressors. Similar theme, different perspective (Western vs Eastern bloc) - if you liked one, you will probably be interested in the other.

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» See also 18 mentions

English (12)  French (2)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (15)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
I, like many people probably, read Roadside Picnic as my first Strugatsky brothers book. Like that work, Hard to Be a God has a great central premise. Members of a highly developed culture (a future Communist utopia) are on an alien world where civilization has only developed to the level of the middle ages. What should they do with their vastly more advanced technology and understanding of both the material world and the human condition? What can they do, even with that power? It's an intriguing situation, still interesting despite having been explored by many sci-fi books and TV shows like Star Trek and its ilk since the book's original publication. Unlike Roadside Picnic, however, the premise of Hard to Be a God does not lead to a great setting and a plot centered on exploring that setting. Instead, Hard to Be a God gives us a setting that is an amalgam of feudal history and fantasy genre tropes that isn't bad, but isn't particularly memorable either. There are still interesting ideas here, explored to a slightly greater depth than most science-fiction goes, but by the end of the book those ideas are being delivered rather bluntly, and the book delivers no revelation or satisfying insight about them.

Ultimately, what most held the book back for me was that the stance taken by these advanced observers was unsatisfying and stripped away what could have been fun about this premise. Don Rumata and his fellow Communards split the baby in their approach to the planet, not remaining pure observers but not conducting any significant intervention either. Instead they operate in the shadows, an alien illuminati attempting to slowly manipulate things for the better. I don't remember it ever being explained why the observers fully revealing themselves would have been a bad thing- one observer discusses how the modest technological advancements he's introduced have been warped to nefarious ends, but the only reasons we get for why there isn't larger-scale intervention are nebulous explanations about not wanting to be worshipped as gods, not wanting to breed helplessness, and not wanting to usurp the world's development. The usurpation point is belied by the fact that the observers are intervening at all, I never found the helplessness point convincing, and there's no justification for why the observers telling the truth wouldn't be worth a try. The Prime Directive of Star Trek stems from the belief that imposing your own views on less developed civilizations is unjustifiable- here, where Communism is presented and believed by the characters to be the best and inevitable ending state of civilization, such reasoning no longer holds.

Even with the (what I would call) muddled approach that the characters of Hard to Be a God take, the premise still has the possibility for some fun, but the Strugatsky brothers steadfastly deny us the type of enjoyable scenes that the book could have given us- there's no scene where the brutish soldiers tasked with lynching literates attack Don Rumata and find their swords bouncing uselessly off his forcefield, there's no scene where Don Rumata calls down his helicopters to the amazement of the city's populace, there's no scene where Don Rumata blasts holes the walls of the Merry Tower to save his friend from torture. Even when the antagonist reveals that he believes Don Rumata has made a deal with demons for his wealth and fighting prowess, Rumata does nothing fun with it. Instead, the Strugatsky brothers maintain the bleak tone throughout, apparently believing that having any fun with the premise would detract from this book being serious literature. Perhaps they were right, but they do make this a terribly dull read in the process. The Zone's tension and mystery made reading Roadside picnic a pleasure, and Hard to Be a God gives us nothing comparable. If they didn't want to make it pulpier, the Strugatsky brothers had to give us something else, and the observations that even with god-like power it's hard to make people behave how you want them to just doesn't cut it.

Hard to Be a God does not have a premise that can carry a story like The Zone did in Roadside Picnic, and unfortunately the Strugatsky brothers are middling when it comes to prose and ability to craft interesting characters. If the intriguing premise has hooked you, give it a try (it's a quick read), but I'd recommend that you temper your expectations: it's a solid piece of science fiction, but to me it rises no higher than that, I can already tell that soon I'll barely remember it. ( )
  BayardUS | Jan 10, 2016 |
Please read my full review here: http://realbooks4ever.tumblr.com/post/79825867987 ( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
Please read my full review here: http://realbooks4ever.tumblr.com/post/79825867987 ( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
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.
  richardderus | Oct 7, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (53 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arkady Strugatskyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strugatski, Borismain authorall editionsconfirmed
Aksionov, S.Cover photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bormashenko, OlenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Freas, KellyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kunzru, HariForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olson, SarahCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Specht, ArnoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strugatsky, BorisAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Average: (3.76)
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