Hard to be a God by Arkady Strugatsky

There will always be a spot in my heart for foreign entertainment. Be it books, music, or movies, they will continue to remain near and dear. I think this is because it allows us to see a culture different from our own. The tropes that American movies and books all too easily cling to are happily skipped over and ignored.

The problem though, especially in books, lies in the translation from one language to another. Many languages have a word or a phrase that simply can’t be translated. It leaves the person doing the translating fumbling for something that the reader will understand but also stays true to the original text.

Perhaps that is why I had troubles following Hard to be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The original novel, written in 1964, is in Russian. While it was translated once before in to English, apparently that translation was from a German text and subsequently was full of errors. This current translation is from the original Russian text and is supposedly much truer to the original.

The story in Hard to be a God tells the story of Don Rumata of Arkanar. To all concerned he is an arrogant nobleman, dueling and drinking his days away. However he has a secret – he is not who he claims to be. He has in fact been sent from Earth to Arkanar, to watch and observe and perhaps to influence but to never interfere. History must take its course and Don Rumata finds himself swept away with the tide.

The premise of this tale is fascinating and I cannot help but be reminded of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. It too states that a Starfleet officer may observe a culture but can never interfere with it. Considering Hard to be a God was written in 1964, about the time of the original Star Trek series, perhaps one influenced the other?

I lament the fact that I cannot read Russian because I am sure there are nuances to this book that did not make the shift from one language to another. It does not mean this is a bad book, far from it in fact – I found it enjoyable. It definitely is one to make you think.

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