Omon Ra (Russian: Омон Ра) is a short novel by Russian writer Victor Pelevin, published in 1992 by the Tekst Publishing House in Moscow. It was the first novel by Pelevin, who until then was known for his very short stories.
Pelevin traces the absurd fate of the fictional protagonist, named Omon by his policeman father (after OMON, Soviet and Russian special police forces, pronounced "Amon"), placing him in circumstances both completely fantastic and at the same time very recognizable in everyday detail. Pelevin uses this story to illustrate the underlying absurdity of the Soviet establishment with its fixation on "heroic achievements" in those fields of human endeavor which could be most favorably presented to the outside world—science, the military, but most significantly space exploration.
The book is narrated in the first person, in the manner of a coming-of-age story, or Bildungsroman. The protagonist, tracing his life from early childhood, is Omon Krivomazov, born in Moscow in the post-World War II years. In his teenage years, the realization strikes him that he must break free of Earth's gravity to free himself of the demands of the Soviet society and the rigid ideological confines of the state. After finishing high school, he immediately enrolls in a military academy. Omon soon finds that the academy does not, in fact, create future pilots, but instead exposes cadets to a series of treacherous trials, beginning with the amputation of both of their feet, so they can manifest Soviet heroism. This military school peculiarities are coming as a reference to a famous Soviet ace-pilot Alexey Maresyev, who despite being badly injured in a plane crash after a dogfight, managed to return to the Soviet-controlled territory on his own. During his 18-day-long journey, his injuries deteriorated so badly that both of his legs had to be amputated below the knee. Desperate to return to his fighter pilot career, he subjected himself to nearly a year of exercise to master the control of his prosthetic devices, and succeeded at that, returning to flying in June 1943.
In the book, before such intentional "amputation" happens, though, Omon and his friend are whisked out of the academy into a top-secret installation under KGB headquarters in Moscow, where they start preparing for an "unmanned" mission to the Moon; he is told that to substitute for researching, building and launching an automated probe, the Party prefers people, trained for "heroism", to fulfill the tasks nominally performed by machines, such as rocket stage separation, space vehicle course correction and so on.
Soon Omon indeed seems to be launched to the Moon, strapped into a seat inside a Lunokhod, which he is meant to drive like a bicycle on the lunar surface, as the last piece in the space mission puzzle, in order to deliver a radio beacon to a specific point and activate it. This he does, even though his protection against the vacuum and the interstellar cold, once he leaves the confines of the hermetically sealed Lunokhod, consists of a cotton-filled overcoat and "special hydrocompensatory tampons" stuffed up his nose. However, when the time comes for him to shoot himself after placing the beacon, as ordered, the gun he was given for that purpose misfires, and he finds himself not on the Moon at all, but in an abandoned subway tunnel, where he had been driving his Lunokhod all along, carefully ignoring all signs which might have given him a clue as to his real whereabouts. He tries to escape, is given chase, but manages to find his way into the "normal" world again, coming up into one of the stations of the Moscow Metro.
One of Omon's "teachers" explains the idea behind the charade. The idea is that even if the fact that the Soviet Union is a champion of peaceful space exploration holds true only inside a person's head (namely, the hero's; no one knows of him or his mission apart from its organizers), this is not much different from it being the reality. The reality, when it concerns subjects not capable of being experienced, is in fact only a perception formed in people's consciousness, and can be manipulated to the extent that the question of "true" version of events becomes meaningless (this idea juxtaposes with the conspiracy theories concerning the moon landing by the United States astronauts, even though the latter is never mentioned in the novel).
The book met with a significant success in the early post-Soviet cultural landscape and continues to be reprinted with the later works by Pelevin.
The title, Omon Ra, refers to the main character's given and chosen names. Omon's name is a generic term for the Russian police force, and was given to him by his father in hopes that it would drive him down that career path. Ra is an allusion to an Egyptian Sun god, whose body is human and whose head is that of a falcon. Omon bestowed this surname upon himself to reflect his aspirations. Together these names demonstrate the connection between Omon's dream of flight and the necessity of having to go through the Russian military to achieve it.Omon Ra (Omon Krivomazov)
Raised by Soviet apparatus due to apathetic aunt and absent father, dreams of escaping confines of Earth by becoming cosmonaut. Enters Soviet space program.
Omon's friend, also dreams of going into space.
Idealistic leader of space program. Tells Omon that “just one pure soul is enough for the banner of triumphant socialism to be unfurled on the surface of the distant moon.”
Throughout much of the novel, Pelevin establishes space travel as a metaphor for maturation and heroism as one for responsibility. In the beginning of the novel, Omon straddles the boundary between childhood and adulthood. He yearns to become a cosmonaut and a hero; however, when he believes that he has the opportunity to do so, he realizes that heroism is nothing but a glorified illusion. Although children believe that the world holds an infinite number of opportunities for adults, they eventually learn that the responsibility adults have is extremely constraining rather than liberating.
Marcel Dorney's theatrical adaptation of Omon Ra was performed by the Restaged Histories Project in Brisbane, Australia in 2006.