Arkadii (Natanovich) Strugatskii T. A. Shippey - Essay

T. A. Shippey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In several ways [Hard To Be a God] falls straight into an identifiable American [science fiction] sub-genre: the feudal planet on which agents of the advanced civilisation of Earth have the job of leading the natives anonymously to progress. Just like Poul Anderson or Lloyd Biggle or a dozen others, the Strugatskis make straight for a set of connected themes—the difficulty of changing belief-systems, the way in which innovations are misunderstood, the obstinate habit slaves have of understanding their masters better than their liberators, the danger that revolutions can turn out to be cyclic rather than spiral. Is this derivation, or parallel evolution? The question hardly matters, for in spite of the similarities of narrative convention the Russian novel remains wholly different both in tone and ideology from its American analogues.

Probably the main non-English feature is the implied theory of history. The protagonist Anton (or Don Rumata) in fact opposes his superiors of the Institute of Experimental History in wanting to become involved, to intervene in the processes of class-warfare and the decline of feudalism; but even he believes in the inevitability of those processes and wants only to speed them up. His situation, then, is that of an Orwell, unable to reconcile what he knows about the front line with what he is told back at base, and right at the end, indeed, he expresses a philosophy close to that of Animal...

(The entire section is 564 words.)