A vigorous satire on the Soviet space program is combined with a thoughtful dramatization of the mixed human impulses to explore, conquer, and transcend in this memorable short novel by the author of The Yellow Arrow (see below). Pelvin's narrator and protagonist, born Omon Krivomazov, grows up in a nondescript village, ignored by his drunken father and sustained by a rapturous ``dream of the sky'' that fills his being with the romance of celestial navigation. Omon--who adopts as his surname that of the Egyptian god of the sun--progresses with initially increasing enthusiasm, then gathering apprehension, through the stages of Soviet space training, the trials of Flying School, and the revelations of ``Rocket Camp'' with his best pal Mitiok, as the two eagerly prepare for a planned lunar flight. But what of those stories about space cadets who must have their legs amputated to fit inside their vessels' cockpits? Omon meets the dog Laika (``the first Soviet cosmonaut'') and hears hilariously grim stories of the awful lengths to which humans will go to survive- -like the Popadyas, father and son, who wear bulletproof vests and suit up as bears for the pleasure of hunting parties (the participation of Henry Kissinger in this subplot marks one of Pelevin's rare descents into theme-driven overstatement). In Omon, Pelevin creates a bright, observant central character who's appropriately fascinated by the way things work. Minor characters are sketchier, though the blind, wheelchair-bound Political Instructor Colonel Urchagin, who smilingly urges Omon and his comrades to make the ultimate sacrifice, will linger in the reader's memory--as will the sobering lesson imparted to Omon: ``. . . becoming a heavenly body is not much different from serving a life sentence in a prison carriage that travels round and round a circular railway line without ever stopping.'' This haunting tragicomedy was nominated for the 1993 Russian Booker Prize (which Pelevin won for a collection of short stories). It's the work of an exciting new talent, and one hopes his other fiction will soon be in English translation as well.