This novel bears the obvious marks of hasty collaboration. The English version is also a secondhand translation, from the German. Even so, the novel has great power. There is, first of all, the complexity of its treatment of historical dynamics. The novel recognizes, in most un-Marxian fashion, a fundamentally unregenerate and fallen nature for humankind, making all forms of engineered social progress impossible. Rumata’s constant evocation of human baseness stymies all proposed movement toward progressive synthesis. Central is the dialogue between Rumata and the physician Budach. Ironically, the “god” Rumata shows less utopian imagination than this “primitive” specimen. Asked what he would do if he could change the decisions of the Supreme Power, Budach proposes to give food, shelter, and work to all. When Rumata counters that the strong will take from the weak, Budach offers to punish such cruelty. Rumata points out that punishment does no good: All people are born weak and grow strong only when challenged. There are only two solutions: All people must be held forcibly in check, or all of corrupt humanity must be eliminated and replaced. In the first solution, utopia is a prison; the second suggests that utopia is possible only by transcending humanity.

Hard to Be a God offers hope beyond this cosmic despair, but the solution is not completely satisfying. Rumata is sad because he lacks the power to save the race. In the eyes of Kyra,...

(The entire section is 578 words.)