Two friends, Anton and Vadim, are preparing for their holiday hunting trip when they are joined by a strange-looking man, Saul, who persuades them to fly to an arbitrary uninhabited and unexplored planet with a thinly-veiled wish to stay there. Incidentally, the first planet they land on (which they name Saula in honor of their passenger) bears a primitive civilization of Human Aliens. Having found several bodies of frozen-to-death adolescents, the Earthlings, believing that there has been a catastrophic event recently, decide to ignore their Alien Non-Interference Clause and move in to help the survivors. However, they discover that there was no catastrophe, it's actually much much worse.
This novel is notable to be the first one to deal with the topic ever-recurring in the Noon Universe: Should Earthlings intervene when they see violence and injustice happening elsewhere? Will it change anything or make the things worse? The protagonists have very contrasting opinions on this: While Vadim is brightly optimistic and eager to take part in such an endeavor, Saul's grim stance eventually pushes him beyond his Despair Event Horizon.
Tropes found in the novel:
- All Crimes Are Equal: On Saula, conspiracy, theft, murder and "wishing strange things" are all punished equally: Camps for life.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Earthlings are subject to one, at least, concerning amateur contacts. They break it.
- Alien Sky: Saula has three moons.
- Anachronism Stew: Rather subtle and sociological. It is no coincidence that totalitarian regimes first emerged as late as in the XX century, since they have certain technical (such as mass media) and social prerequisites. In the novel, however, the local civilization is depicted as totalitarian, although technologically it is located somewhere in the Dung Ages.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: From Saul's point of view.
- Badass Bookworm: Saul's Masquerade
- Banned in China: Defied. Word Of God states that, originally, Saul was to escape from the Gulag. This would have been too much even for the Khrushchev's Thaw, so they made him escape from a Nazi camp.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Subverted, Human Aliens are even compatible with Earthling medicine. However, played straight in the same scene, when Anton remembers "the dire effects that the application of simple iodinenote by humanoids on Tagora has had".
- Continuity Nod: The novel makes a reference to Rumata, notably two years before Hard to Be a God was written. However, it is not clear whether the plot actually takes place before Hard to Be a God, and the situation appears very novel to the protagonists, so it might well be a Series Continuity Error.
- Crapsack World: Oh yes. Granted, the protagonists happen to find themselves in probably the shittiest place Saula has to offer, and outside of the camp it is said to get better.
- Culture Clash
- Downer Ending: At least, for Saul.
- Fish out of Temporal Water
- First Contact
- Hand Cannon
- Hand Wave: It is never explained how Saul traveled through time, how he returned back and how he came to possess a scorcher. In the Soviet science fiction community of the Sixties, largely based on hard science at the time, this was quite a novelty and earned some criticism by fellow authors.
- Hell Hole Prison
- Human Aliens
- Just Friends: Anton and Galka.
- Language Barrier: Between the Terrans and alien natives. Even the intonation of the local language is alien to the Terrans, e.g. the commanding tone sounds more like whiny wailing. However, when Saul takes over an interrogation of a native, the latter learns the Terran intonations very quickly, thanks to Saul's unambiguous Body Language.
- Neglectful Precursors: The Wanderers use the planet as a sort of logistical node to transport some machines around the Galaxy. Or it may be a sort of The Monolith. We'll never know.
- No Woman's Land: Justified, since they land in a concentration camp, and lampshaded by Haira.
- Organic Technology
- Protocol Peril: The locals have a totally different speech intonation. What is perceived as humble pleas by Eartlings is actually meant as harsh commanding tone.
- Time Travel: Saul's brief visit into the future is the second and last instance of it in the Noon Universe (the previous was in the final story of Noon: 22nd Century, recalled by Gorbovsky), and may thus fall into the Early-Installment Weirdness category.
- We Come in Peace Shoot to Kill: With Eartlings on the aliens' side.