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After the support gained here for the idea of regular topic challenges on Literature as a way of hopefully broadening our cultural scope, a new post was set up here to gather suggestions for specific topics to be used. Since it's been decided to have month-long topic challenges, the first one will run through April 2017, and the topic will be the current highest-voted proposal, suggested by Gallifreyan:

Hard to be a God, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

I'm posting the announcement a week before the start of April, so that people have time to prepare, get a copy of the book to start reading, and so forth. The topic challenge itself will start on April the 1st.


What's a topic challenge?

See the meta posts linked above, and also this main meta post. In short, during April we should all read "Hard to Be a God" and try to post thoughtful and interesting questions about it.

There's no obligation for any particular community member to do so, but hopefully between us we'll rack up a good collection of questions about it over the course of the month. And of course it goes without saying that questions on other works are more than welcome during April too; they just won't count as part of this topic challenge.

How can I take part?

By getting hold of the book, in whatever language you prefer, and asking good questions about it. (An English translation is freely available in PDF form from a US government website here.) These questions should be tagged with and and , and other tags if applicable. We'll keep track of the list of all such questions in an answer to this meta post.

What's next?

Go here to vote on different possibilities for the May topic challenge, and perhaps to suggest new topic challenge proposals of your own!

  • If there's anything I should have mentioned in this post and haven't, please let me know in a comment, or even edit the post yourself. Later on we'll probably have a set template for these meta announcements of topic challenges, but since this is the first one, the format is still in flux. – Rand al'Thor Mar 25 '17 at 21:55
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    The descendants of Strugatsky brothers have released (officially, legally) all of their works - published and unpublished - on the Internet. It's only in Russian, though. – Gallifreyan Mar 26 '17 at 16:31
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    To spare the time searching: this novel is translated to Hungarian by Gellért György as Arkagyij Sztrugackij, Borisz Sztrugackij, Nehéz istennek lenni, published (1971) Kossuth kiadó, then published (2010) Európa ISBN:9789630789905. Also has translation to german as Arkadi und Boris Strugazki, Ein Gott zu Sein ist Schwer. – b_jonas Mar 29 '17 at 12:17
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    A PDF of the full text of the novel also seems to be available here. I assume this must be legal since it's on a government website. – Rand al'Thor Apr 2 '17 at 10:47
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    @Randal'Thor - not really. First, your logic is wrong (it's personal FTP). Second, the official legal status is that the texts are free ONLY on official rusf site, but not elsewhere, as per Strugatsky estate: rusf.ru/abs/arh_new.htm; facebook.com/…; rusf.ru/abs/abs2017.htm. Third, translations are also copyrighted to whoever created them – DVK Apr 9 '17 at 3:44
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    @Gallifreyan - see links in above comment. They ONLY released it when published on official rusf site, not elsewhere – DVK Apr 9 '17 at 3:58
  • @DVK Looks pretty much like a NASA site to me, FTP or not. Regarding your second point: if I understand the situation correctly, Boris had released the books of rusf himself, but after he died, his wife/children took them down. And then posted them again with a hypocritical note "We couldn't battle piracy". Good riddance. Also, it is not clear who translated that version posted on the FTP. At least I couldn't find the translator. – Gallifreyan Apr 9 '17 at 10:20
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    @Gallifreyan - i don't care to dig deep enough but it looks like FTP-open personal account of a NASA employee. Re: #2, the reasons are irrelevant, point is, the books are ONLY legally freely available from rusf; not elsewhere. Information doesn't want to be anthropomorphised – DVK Apr 9 '17 at 13:53
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List of all questions posted as part of the April 2017 Topic Challenge


The highest-voted of these is How do they decide who to save/bring to Earth in Hard to Be a God? by Swizzler, with a score of 10 at the end of the month.

The most viewed is Should this word in Hard to Be a God be translated as "arbalest" or "crossbow"? by DVK, with approximately 200 views during the month.

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    (This answer is done according to the formatting established by me for the Puzzling topic challenge meta posts.) – Rand al'Thor Mar 25 '17 at 22:02
  • Should we post the plain links or the "share" links (so we can rack up views for that badge :D)? – Gallifreyan Mar 26 '17 at 15:21
  • @Gallifreyan Whatever you like. I don't think it'd be frowned upon to use the "share" links. – Rand al'Thor Mar 26 '17 at 15:22
  • Should we also include a category for the highest-voted answer? If so, should we count answers to pre-challenge questions? – Gallifreyan Apr 27 '17 at 11:08
  • @Gallifreyan Sure, if you want, but it'll take longer to find than the highest-voted and most-viewed question. And yes, I can see the argument for counting all answers in the tag posted in the month, regardless of whether the question was part of the challenge or not ... but I can also see the argument for only counting answers to challenge questions ... – Rand al'Thor Apr 27 '17 at 11:11
  • Hehe :) Dilemmas, dilemmas... – Gallifreyan Apr 27 '17 at 11:15
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Some statistics for answers posted during this challenge:

  • A total of 14 answers have been posted;

    • Thus the answer to question ratio is ~1.17;
  • Most active answerer was Gallifreyan, with 6 answers;

  • Most upvoted answer has been posted by Gallifreyan, with the net score of 11;

    • DVK was the runner-up, with the net score of 8;
  • The question that attracted the most answers was, ironically, not asked during the challenge; however, I consider Torisuda's and Gilles' excellent answers to be a part of the challenge.


Some reflections:

Overall, the challenge has been a great success, and a great start for our monthly challenges.

We've had very interesting questions, that asked both for the analysis of the novel itself, and for the context in which it was written - and for the answers to latter we owe much to DVK, who provided invaluable knowledge of the Soviet era in which the novel was written.

If I was to name one thing I'm not entirely happy with, I'd say it was the number of participants. Although we've had 8 participants, (to my knowledge) only 2 of them were not familiar with the novel before the challenge.

I'm guessing we just need a bit more users, and maybe a bit more exposure for the challenge; also, a book that isn't from Russia and that is public domain would probably fare better.

I thank everyone who took part in this challenge, and look forward for our next one! ;-)

  • "a book that isn't from Russia [...] would probably fare better" - why? – Rand al'Thor May 1 '17 at 11:53
  • Just speculation; "Soviet Russia" would be more accurate. The fact that it's a politically charged novel, and that most users would have to read a translation is what I was thinking about. Perhaps this one needed too much context (though DVK made short work of that), and I hoped that it wouldn't. I was thinking of proposing Roadside Picnic at some point - it's less about society, slightly more philosophical, and a lot more obscure sci-fi. And there's more adventure to it (which is most likely the reason it was made into a game series). – Gallifreyan May 1 '17 at 11:57
  • "that most users would have to read a translation" - well, isn't that the whole point of the topic challenges? We're supposed to be broadening the cultural scope of the site, which will require reading things that weren't originally written in English. – Rand al'Thor May 1 '17 at 12:00
  • I agree, but I have a feeling that if there are books people could be prejudiced against reading, this has to be one. – Gallifreyan May 1 '17 at 12:03

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