Disco Elysium novel Sacred and Terrible Air has finally been translated

You woke up this morning and thought to yourself, “Time to go to work in the shit factory!” Well, you were wrong. Today, the star-and-antlers flies overhead, because Sacred and Terrible Air, the novel by Disco Elysium’s lead designer and writer Robert Kurvitz that shares its setting, has been made available in English and in full at last. Albeit, unofficially.

Sacred and Terrible Air was first published in Estonian in 2013, and featured art by Aleksander Rostov, designer and art director on Disco Elysium. “It sold 1,000 copies,” Kurvitz once told Edge Magazine (opens in new tab). “So after that I succumbed to deep alcoholism.” Fortunately, the videogame was a little more successful, which resulted in plans to translate it into English. However, the announced 2020 release window passed without comment. Now, with Kurvitz and Rostov ousted from ZA/UM and, last we heard, declaring their intent to continue pursuing legal options, it seems less likely than ever that an official English release will appear.

And so unofficial releases have emerged. While a previous attempt only made it up to chapter six (opens in new tab), we now have two full and complete English translations to choose from. The first was made available by tequilla_sunset5, who got together with some friends to hire a translator and an editor. Then, they tweaked the translation to ensure consistency with the game, saying, “as an example, ‘Pale’ is just referred to as ‘grey’ throughout the book, or some of the names are spelled differently than they were eventually done by the game team. When in doubt, we took the game translations as canon”.  

They also wanted to make sure the subtext and style was preserved as much as possible. “The Estonian prose apparently has a sort of dreamy, lyrical atmosphere to it which we tried to keep as much as possible with the sometimes strange order of words and descriptions that drove our editor up a wall…”

The result is an English version of Sacred and Terrible Air that includes Rostov’s internal illustrations, a glossary, and an epilogue and deleted scene that were previously posted on ZA/UM blogs. It can be downloaded as a pdf (opens in new tab) or an epub (opens in new tab), or in a zip file containing both formats (opens in new tab)

Meanwhile, a different set of fans calling themselves Group Ibex have also translated the book. Their version is “a heavily edited version of a machine translation” that “went through several intensive rewrites, including at all levels by Estonian-speaking members of the team, to ensure meaning, prose and consistency.” It doesn’t include Rostov’s illustrations or a glossary, though it does have the epilogue and deleted scene, which it inserts at the end of chapter 11 rather than keeping it for an appendix. It also translates a list of names from Elysium that were printed in the book’s inside covers. Ibex’s version is also available in pdf (opens in new tab) and epub (opens in new tab).

Which version should you choose? Let me get back to you on that when I’ve had a weekend to finally read this book I’ve been waiting for since 2019.

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