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Page 1 of 7The Book
Hard to be a God is set on the planet dubbed Arkanar, which is actually the name of one of the planet's kingdoms. This is a planet in transition, moving from days of high feudalism slowly into their version of the renaissance. Reactive elements, like the nobility and church, are executing their anti-noblesse oblige by doing their best to repress all possible elements of innovation and renewal.
But what if I tell you this feudal period has stretched over millennia on this planet?
What's more, what if I tell you all of the above is clocked in at earth year 2156 AD? And not any 2156 AD, but 2156 AD in an alternative timeline earth in which the communist system in the Soviet Union continued to develop into the ideal communist society as Marx had so vaguely pictured it, taking over the entire earth with its idyllic ways. (To be fair, it wasn't really an (alternative) timeline yet in the span from 1961 to 1985, when the Strugatsky brothers wrote their 10 books set in this universe, dubbed the Noon Universe.)
That's starting to sound more like it. But of course, we're not discussing the entire Noon Universe. As said, we're looking at the planet of Arkanar, in the 4th Noon book by the Strugatsky brothers, Hard to be a God. The communist citizens of earth in the 22nd century in their infinite wisdom, kindness and goodness did not, as in so many capitalist SF stories, colonize the entire universe. Instead, earth establishes contact with other races, populates uninhabited planets and, in the case of Arkanar, sends teams of expert historians to subtly watch and guide the course of history on the budding planet.
Naturally, in a good Leninist-Marxian sense, the Strugasky brothers sketched history as a rather dull, mono-linear event. There's gentilism, there's slavery, there's feudalism, there's capitalism, there's communism in its perfect form. Of course, capitalism has been a long time coming on the planet Arkanar (especially in the Kingdom Arkanar), and this is worrying the titular (God) Anton Konstantinovich Malyshev, know on Arkanar as Don Rumata.
The gods that it is so hard to be are in fact the earth observers, historians from the Institute of Experimental History that live amongst the populace of the planet, often as high-ranked citizens. Their godlike status comes from their superior knowledge, training and vastly superior technology, which technically enables them to act without discretion or restraints.
However, two things make their existence particularly unbearable. One is that they live as highly-evolved human beings amongst a sort of protozoan form of the high culture they're used to. This is graphically expressed in Don Rumata's disgust at the high-born ladies of the planet, smelly disgusting females all of them. The Don himself feels his humanity slip away from him bit by bit as the book progresses, reverting back to the more primitive form of humanity feudalism represents.
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