Omon Ra tells the story of a young man, Omon, who finds himself realising his dream of being recruited into the Soviet space program. However, he discovers, during training, that the mission he's been sent on is a suicidal one-way journey to the dark side of the Moon, a fate he is obliged to embrace for the greater good of the Republic. Omon is the callow narrator, who talks us through his trials and tribulations with a flat, underwhelmed tone, one shared by his fellow kamikaze astranouts, with the exception of a brief discussion about the best songs of Pink Floyd.
This is Pelevin's first novel. Whilst the scale and ambition is evident, the piece lacks the assurance of The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, and Pelevin's prose style is, at times, as tentative as his narrator's disposition. Even at a mere 150 pages, it feels as though Omon is crawling towards his demise, rather than hurtling through space.
Nevertheless, the ideas on display are rich, not least the remarkable sequence which describes a hunting trip undertaken by Kissinger when in Russia on a diplomatic mission. Pelevin's imagination seems to be bursting to break through the confines of the Soviet-era setting, something it perhaps achieves in the book's closing sequences, when the narrative accelerates into the unexpected, with a detour via Zabriskie Point.
It would be interesting to know what Pelevin considers to be his influences. The narrative of the book, dealing with an innocent being sent to his probable death in a rocket, resembles that of Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Like Pynchon, Pelevin draws on an esoteric frame of reference, his erudition distilled through the perspective of a simple hero trying to do the right thing in difficult times. Whether Pelevin has come across Pynchon or not, he shares the other's sense of ambition, the notion that a novel needs to challenge the boundaries of realism in order to be able to discover a perspective from which any kind of originality can be articulated. Likewise, both have dwelt on the fact that nothing shows up the hubris of our era more than our pitiful ventures into space. Adventures which show how unadaptable man is as a species; and whose grandiose ambition only serves to reveal how parochial the systems which fuel these ambitions are, within a universe we can barely dip our toes in.