The main character's internal monolog at one point reads:

You just want to kill. Yes, I do. And are you capable of it? ... the only thing I regret is killing her in vain. So they've almost taught me. But that's bad. That's dangerous. Remember Sergei Kozhin? And George Lenny? And Sabine Kruger? [Italics present in the English translation.]

Hard to Be a God is a Russian science fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky set in the future. Some of the historical references in it are set in our future, but some reference things in our past.

George Lenny might be an oblique reference to Of Mice and Men, whose main characters are George and Lennie1 (and where the reference to learning to kill would be fairly relevant). Are there similar explanations for Sergei Kozhin and Sabine Kruger? And is there a better explanation for George Lenny?

1 Note that Lennie might easily come out Lenny after being transliterated to Cyrillic and back.

1 Answer 1


I think, in the context of the novel, those are the names of the operatives who were previously named "sprinters", i.e. people who could not simply stand and watch the barbarian actions of the population, and decided to act themselves in accordance with their understanding of right and wrong.

They're first mentioned by Don Condor:

“Because occasionally we do get… enthusiasts, blast them—sprinters who can’t go the distance.

Rumata gave a crooked smile and started pointlessly fiddling with his boots. Sprinters. Yes, there’ve been sprinters.

Ten years before, Stephan Orlovsky, also known as Don Capata, the commander of a company of His Imperial Majesty’s crossbowmen, ordered his soldiers to open fire on the executioners at a public torture of eighteen Estorian witches; he cut down the judge and two court bailiffs and was lanced by the Imperial Guard. Writhing in agonies of death, he shouted, “But you’re human! Get them, get them!”—but few heard him over the roar of the crowd: “Fire! More fire!”

Approximately at the same time, in another hemisphere, Carl Rosenblum, one of the leading experts on the peasant wars in France and Germany, also known as the wool-seller Pani-Pa, led a revolt of Murissian peasants, stormed two cities, and was killed by an arrow to the back of the head while trying to stop the looting. He was still alive when they came for him in the helicopter, but he couldn’t speak and only looked on in guilt and bewilderment with his big blue eyes, which constantly streamed tears…

And shortly before Rumata’s arrival, the magnificently placed confidant of the Caisan tyrant (Jeremy Tafnat, a specialist in the history of agrarian reforms) suddenly staged a palace coup, usurped power, and for two months attempted to start a golden age. He stubbornly refused to reply to furious queries from his neighbors and from Earth, earned the reputation of a lunatic, managed to avoid eight assassination attempts, and was finally kidnapped by an emergency team of Institute workers and transferred by submarine to an island base by the planet’s southern pole.
From the translation by Olen Bormashenko, chapter 1, emphasis mine.

I think that Anton remembers them because they were victims of their haste and their maladjusted attempts to do good. Throughout the novel it's reinforced that the operatives aren't there to act (unless with microscopic interventions), but to observe, and even to observe how to observe.

“Anton,” Don Condor said. “There are two hundred and fifty of us on this entire planet. Everybody controls themselves, and everybody finds it very hard. The most experienced of us have lived here for twenty-two years. They came here as nothing more than observers. They were completely forbidden to do anything whatsoever. Imagine that for a moment: forbidden to do anything. They wouldn’t even have had the right to save Budach. Even if Budach was being trampled before their eyes.”

“You’re impatient like a child,” Don Condor declared. “And we must be very patient.”

Rumata smiled bitterly. “And while we watch and wait,” he said, “calculating and planning, animals will be destroying humans every minute of every day.”

“Anton,” Don Condor said, “the universe has thousands of planets where we haven’t come yet, where history is taking its course.”

“But we’ve come here already!”

“Yes, we have. But we’ve come here to help these people, not to satisfy our righteous rage. If you’re weak, leave. Go home. After all, you really aren’t a child, and you knew what you’d encounter here.”

(spoilers follow!)

In the further context of the novel, this scene foreshadows the ending of the novel, where Rumata, enraged by the death of Kira, lost himself and slaughtered a lot of people, including Don Reba, in order to execute "justice" (or simply in blind rage). Anton too was a "sprinter".

I couldn't find any historical references to real figures who had those names, save for Sergei Kozhin (Сергей Кожин). He was a Napoleon-era Russian cavalry general, who led some very successful attacks against French forces. I couldn't find a way to relate him to the events of the novel.

Of course, it may just be possible that those are characters from other works set in the Noon Universe, but I don't remember them from the few works I've read.

  • That's clearly the right in-universe answer. I guess it's still conceivable that George Lenny could be a conscious or unconscious reference to Of Mice and Men, but there's probably no way to figure this out.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 3:59
  • @PeterShor - it has been ages and ages since I read OMaM, how can that be tied to HTBaG passage?
    – DVK
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 2:35
  • @DVK: George and Lennie are the main characters in Of Mice and Men, and one way of interpreting events that book is that people go after Lennie after they think he has "learned to kill". Although maybe this is somewhat of a stretch.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 2:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.