Friday, November 25, 2022

Five top SFF books about spies & espionage

Elijah Kinch Spector is a writer, dandy, and rootless cosmopolitan from the Bay Area who now lives in Brooklyn.

His debut novel is Kalyna the Soothsayer.

At Spector tagged "five books featuring lies and espionage on a national (or intergalactic) scale." One title on the list:
Hard to Be a God by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

At first, the Strugatsky brothers wanted to write a fun adventure, which they described as “our spy on an alien planet,” as part of their Noon Universe: a post-scarcity future where communism has won. Then the Soviet Union had an unexpected backlash against the “wrong” kinds of art, which felt, at the time, like a return to Stalinism after the Thaw. The shock of it changed the Strugatsky brothers’ outlook considerably.

Boris described the feeling in the afterword to the 2014 edition: “We shouldn’t have illusions. We shouldn’t have hopes for a brighter future. We were being governed by goons and enemies of culture.” So, Hard to Be a God became the darkest “prime directive” Trek episode ever.

Our hero(?) Anton is doing the old “observe but don’t interfere” thing on a planet whose humanlike inhabitants live in what is, essentially, medieval Europe. According to the Noon Universe’s idea of progress, this planet should’ve had its enlightenment and begun to improve, but it just… didn’t. So Anton is stuck watching fascism bloom in a filthy and violent place; he has the knowledge and power to topple local despots, but his position as an undercover agent forbids it. His mission is to let their history develop “naturally,” but he begins to wonder whether it would really be so terrible to meddle.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue