Info and Readings on Hard to Be a God
This novel is very well presented, so I don't have to add much information. It's probably the most famous work by the Strugatskys for RUSSIAN readers: in the Soviet period every person who considered her or himself well-educated, a member of the intelligentsia, would have felt obligated to read this book, even if they weren't science fiction fans - even if they didn't care for science fiction.
Questions for Readng:
- The book starts off quite confusingly, and reading the Introduction really helps. - Do you know who Hari Kunzru is? If not, it's very much worth checking out his works. If you do know (or are willing to do a bit of quick online research). why would you say he was a good choice to write the intro?
- What does it suggest when a novel is published with this much "apparatus?" (Especially a science fiction novel.)
- Linger for a moment over the two epigraphs on p. x. What do you make of these two contrasting voices? Or, of including such distinct figures, both non-Russian, from such different historical moments? (I'd say the biographies of Abelard and Hemingway are relevant too. See what you think once you've read the whole book.)
- How much is this science fiction, and how much an adventure story?
- "Escape Attempt" (as well as the Van Gogh story by Gansovsky) pays a lot of attention to questions of how the past, present and future are interrelated. In fact, at one point in "Escape Attempt" Vadim referred to playing Rumata the Explorer - A and B were already thinking of this plot when they wrote that story. Do you see any important differences between the two stories? (Is it even vaguely possible that they're connected by the shared name of Anton?)
- Notice a few passages about culture and the future, and consider your reactions to them.
- Notice too the references to Earth history, especially the Nazis. For the 1960s reader, although they're rather specific moments, they're probably familiar to everyone. If we imagine the future in which the novel takes place, this specialized knowledge shows that Anton (when he isn't being Rumata) is a historian.
- Page 208, Budach is reprising the history of socialist theory.... and Rumata plays God.
- What is the role of religion in the story? (The original idea, as we learn in the Afterword, included "maybe the Inquisition." And where have we seen that before?)
- During the discussion of what happened to former progressors (in the same position as Anton and Pashka - "Pashka" is an affectionate nickname for Pavel, the Russain equivalent of Paul): notice that as they ask "Remember what happened to... ?" the names mentioned are Anglo, or German. Again, this is a future in which people lots of national backgrounds are involved as equals. Think about what this implies for life back on Earth.
- Once you've read the novel, but before the Afterword: did you need the Introduction to understand what was going on? - What is the effect of all the confusion on the reader (even though it gets pretty clear towards the novel's end)?
- And once you've read the Afterword: any other thoughts about the novel's unusual combination of genres?
- Or about the elements of Cold War Soviet culture that the Afterword includes: SF authors as dissidents, and the kinds of censorship, self-censorship, and use of "Aesopian" language that was possible. (Lem talks about this too in some of his interviews.) - Does your reading of the book change if you look at it from that angle, or NOT from that angle?