Gollancz, RRP $22.99
Olena Bormaschenko’s translation of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Hard to Be a God represents the second translation of the Russian sci-fi classic into English. As much is discussed in the forward to the book, by Ken MacLeod, who admits to an abortive first attempt to read the novel back in 1977. Admittedly not a reader of much sci-fi myself*, I had never heard of Hard to Be a God before receiving it for review. I am certainly glad for the new translation, if MacLeod’s criticisms are accurate. Bormaschenko’s edition is a clear and easily readable one. Indeed, in terms of translation my only quibble is with the use of rather twee insults and phrases at times. However, since the book was written in the 1960s, this is likely an accurate reflection of how it reads in Russian.
Hard to Be a God is the rather Star Trekish tale of a future earth man living undercover as an observer on a planet and in a feudal kingdom. Because of the similarities of this planet’s feudal culture to Earth’s European middle ages, Anton and several other historians are there to note social development and… stuff. Unfortunately, what Anton sees unfolding does not follow the progression his historical studies have prepared him for. Instead, he finds the unmistakeable signs of fascism emerging.