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Piknik na obochine by Strugatskie Arkadii i…
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Piknik na obochine (original 1972; edition 2015)

by Strugatskie Arkadii i Boris (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,952755,166 (3.98)132
Member:languagehat
Title:Piknik na obochine
Authors:Strugatskie Arkadii i Boris (Author)
Info:Moscow: AST. (2015), paperback. 254 pp.
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:literature, russian, sf, novel

Work details

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky (1972)

Recently added byKuiperdolin, private library, liannecollins, Nic_C, niallh, cns1000, oacevedo
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» See also 132 mentions

English (69)  French (4)  Russian (1)  German (1)  All languages (75)
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
This book was a surprise for me. The first two thirds were a real slog to get through, but the last third was REALLY good. Interesting philosophy and questions, and the narrative suddenly tied together. My mind wasn't blown, and I do agree with some reviews I read that the translation was a bit to Americanized but an enjoyable read overall. Definitely not a beach read, more of a curl up on a winters night with heavy Russian literature read. ( )
  Apstahl | Feb 25, 2019 |
This book was a surprise for me. The first two thirds were a real slog to get through, but the last third was REALLY good. Interesting philosophy and questions, and the narrative suddenly tied together. My mind wasn't blown, and I do agree with some reviews I read that the translation was a bit to Americanized but an enjoyable read overall. Definitely not a beach read, more of a curl up on a winters night with heavy Russian literature read. ( )
  Apstahl | Feb 20, 2019 |
Red, a man we follow over ten years, is driven by curiosity and need deep into the Zone. The Zone is the result of a visitation from aliens during Red's youth. The aliens made no contact with humans, any who would have seen them died as a result of their landing. The areas surrounding the Zones - there are a dozen or so scattered across the planet - are strictly quarantined and the local population that survive are kept there out of economic necessity, and eventually, law.

The aliens were there only a brief time, as if making a rest stop, before going on their way, leaving behind poisoned earth and technological detritus that have properties revolutionizing human achievement. But all of that is far away. Red and his set, people called stalkers who hunt the Zone for artifacts to sell on the black market under the noses of government operations. The territory is so hostile, if the strange hazards of the area don't kill you, government police will. The costs of stalking often exceed the reward, but Red attempts to build a life for himself and his family in different ways. Inevitably he must go back into the Zone.

The setting is a bleak one, somewhere in the United States and certain fantastic elements aside, all too real. The late 20th century brought many toxic landscapes and dangerous technology into being. The writing is superb, flawless. Olena Bormashenko deserves a lot of credit for a translation that, though I haven't read the original, feels authentic to the last nuance. What sets 'Roadside Picnic' apart, though is the Strugatsky Brothers' view and philosophy towards the alien visitors.

To put it simply, they don't give a shit about us, or our planet. Their motives are ineffable. We are not even like the gold fish Heinlein references in his chilling short story. The visitors couldn't even be bothered to notice our existence. We don't merit consideration in defiance to our every vain idea our own importance to the world, to the universe, to a greater plan. Everything is meaningless. Sorry. Or not. It doesn't matter, remember? How Russian.

Ursula K. Le Guin writes an introduction that, of course, was informative and doesn't give too much away. She gives the novel her unreserved approval. What are you waiting for? ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Buenisimo ( )
  maxtrek | Jan 30, 2019 |
Are you familiar with Stalker, the stunning 1979 Soviet science fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky? If so, I have good news, comrades: the novel on which the film was based is even better. I join the ranks of sf aficionados who judge Arkady & Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic among the greatest science fiction novels ever written.

Although there are six locals or Zones where aliens left mysterious objects behind on this planet, the setting for Roadside Picnic takes place in and around one such Zone in Harmont, Canada, a fictional mining town way out in the boonies. The bulk of the novel consists of Redrick "Red" Schuart's first-person account at age 23, 28 and 31 as a stalker risking his life and the health of others in order to conduct illegal sneaks into the Zone to smuggle out alien artifacts.

At 200 pages Roadside Picnic is not an overly long work but a reader can gather a bushel basket of probing insights and powerful images on every single page. The novel is a gripping adventure story, no doubt about it, but if readers wish to delve deeper, this is a book that could be used in a university course for either psychology, philosophy, sociology or history. Such fertile, thought-provoking material - my initial drafts included no less than three dozen points I planned to cover. But, alas, since this is a review not an extended essay, I've whittled down the number. Here they are:

The Visit
As Nobel laureate Dr. Pillman states unequivocally in the first few pages, the fact that aliens payed a visit to Planet Earth is the most important discovery in human history, proving once and for all we Earthlings are not alone in the universe. Many of the philosophic dimensions of this earth-shattering breakthrough are explored more in depth later on in the book.

Critics and scholars of the Strugatsky novel have speculated what the Zone might represent, equating the Zone with things like capitalism, the black market or, more generally, the yearning for consumer goods; however, as fruitful as these interpretations might prove, Roadside Picnic retains its magic and power for readers if we let the Zone be the Zone where extraterrestrials left behind their stuff as if they were happy-go-lucky vacationers who tossed their trash along the roadside after a picnic, as if they considered human intelligence too minuscule (or human stupidity too colossal) to bother making direct contact with our kind.

The Many Human Roadside Picnics
One of the seasoned officials servicing the international organization in charge of the Zone characterizes the belt of land surrounding the Zone as "a hideous sore on the face of the planet." Since the Zone has attracted a huge number of tourists and scientists and military troops, skyscrapers and a complex for jazz, variety shows and a gigantic brothel have been slapped up. In this regard, Harmont is not unlike the thousands of ugly towns and cities built for their strict utility that quickly become useless, an architectural phenomenon common to all political and economic systems across the globe. Modern society as a producer of mass roadside picnics.

Xenology, the study of extraterrestrials
I agree with Dr. Pillman: the way we humans are going about studying the left-behinds is highly flawed in that it assumes the aliens think like we think. Such arrogance! Why can't people in modern society keep their hands off ? For additional examples we don't have to look far: of all the indigenous peoples who have their own society and cultures, how many have escaped the Western world invading and disrupting their way of life?

The Midwich Cuckoos Redux
Dr. Pillman goes on to observe "All the people in contact with the Zone for a sufficiently long time undergo changes. You know what stalkers' children are like, you know what happens with stalkers themselves. Why? What causes the mutations? There's no radiation in the Zone." A spooky scenario. It is quite possible those mutations could have catastrophic long range consequences, turning humans into aliens for an eventual alien takeover. In this way Roadside Picknic bears comparison to John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos or Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers. And those aliens need not do anything more than leave their stuff behind since we humans can't resist keeping our hands off what belongs to others.

Holy H. P. Lovecraft!
Our Nobel laureate goes on to explain how duplicating spacells and reanimated corpses from the Zone violate the principles of thermodynamics, or, in more ordinary language, are outside the laws of nature. Wow! In this way Roadside Picnic is not only a work of science fiction, it crosses over into the realm of Lovecraftian supernatural horror. Now, good humans, you really having something to worry about! Empties, Full Empties, Hell Slime, Graviconcentrates, a Golden Sphere - if these extraterrestrial objects and realities have or might have supernatural properties, you should definitely think twice before messing with them.

Red the Stalker
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky caught hell from Soviet censors for the coarseness, vulgarity and immoral behavior included in their novel. Case in point: Stalker Red Schuhart is addicted to booze, cigarettes, crass language and gross behavior. And Red can't wait for his next opportunity to use his brass knuckles or return to the Zone, his home away from home.

Can we blame Red? He's surrounded by nothing but filth and ugliness, tawdriness and crap. While turning the pages I attempted to find anything, I mean ANYTHING in Red's world, either in nature or in art or music that contained the slightest gram of beauty. There was none. The closest thing bordering on uplifting aesthetic experience is when Red passes a bakery with brightly lit windows in the early morning and he "let the warm, incredibly delicious aroma wash over him." I mention this to note how Red could appreciate beauty if there was any to be had, but, most unfortunately, his world is one of unending ugliness.

Pulp Science Fiction Revisited
I take it back. There is a second uplifting aesthetic experience Red comes across. It's the most obvious one for a young adventurer: a beautiful woman. "She was silky, luscious, sensuously curvy, without a single flaw, a single extra ounce - a hundred and twenty pounds of twenty-year-old delectable flesh - and then there were the emerald eyes, which shone from within, and the full moist lips and the even white teeth and the jet-black hair that gleamed in the sun, carelessly thrown over one shoulder; the sunlight flowed over her body, drifting from her shoulders to her stomach and hips, throwing shadows between her almost-bare breasts." Ha! Perhaps Arkady and Boris had their tongues deep in their cheeks, purposely conjuring up the stereotypical female image so common in science fiction pulp magazines in bygone years.

A Hero's Journey
Red's adventures as a stalker spans eight years. As we learn toward the end of the novel, Red's journey is a hero's journey, involving what Joseph Campbell termed 'sacrifice and bliss.' To judge the truth of these words, I encourage you to read this classic for yourself - I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

“How can I give up stalking when I have a family to feed? Get a job? I don't want to work for you, your work makes me puke, do you understand? This is the way I figure it: if a man works with you, he is always working for one of you, he is a slave and nothing else. And I always wanted to be myself, on my own, so that I could spit at you all, at your boredom and despair.”
― Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 19, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
 

» Add other authors (32 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Strugatsky, Arkadyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strugatsky, BorisAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
弾, 深見翻訳secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barceló, MiquelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bormashenko, OlenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bouis, Antonina W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Capo, LuisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Griese, FriedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Le Guin, Ursula K.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lem, StanislawAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magee, AlanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Möckel, AljonnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rehnström, KjellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schalekamp, Jean-A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strugatsky, BorisAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sturgeon, TheodoreIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uhlířová, MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
You have to make the good out of the bad because
that's all you have got to make it out of.
Robert Penn Warren
Dedication
First words
I suppose that your first serious discovery, Dr. Pilman, should be considered what is now called the Pilman Radiant?
INTERVIEWER:... I suppose that your first important discovery, Dr. Pillman, was the celebrated Pillman radiant? (tr. Bormashenko, 2012)
Quotations
We usually proceed from a trivial definition: intelligence is the attribute of man that separates his activity from that of the animals. It's a kind of attempt to distinguish the master from his dog, who seems to understand everything but can't speak. However, this trivial definition does lead to wittier ones. They are based on depressing observations of the aforementioned human activity. For example: intelligence is the ability of a living creature to perform pointless or unnatural acts.
It all had to change. Not one life and not two lives, not one fate and not two fates -- every little bit of this stinking world world had to change ...
On the one hand, we are forced to admit, on the other hand, we can't dispute.
I'm anxious about going into the Zone and cold sober to boot. I grab him by the shoulder belt and tell him exactly what he is and just how his mother conceived him.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0575070536, Paperback)

Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those strange misfits who are compelled by some unknown force to venture illegally into the Zone and, in spite of the extreme danger, collect the mysterious artefacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the Zone and the thriving black market in the alien products. Even the nature of his daughter has been determined by the Zone. And it is for her that Red makes his last, tragic foray into the hazardous and hostile depths.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:13 -0400)

"Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of the extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a "full empty," something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he'll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems."--… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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