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Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic (original 1972; edition 2012)

by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, Ursula K. Le Guin (Foreword)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,400575,413 (3.98)97
Title:Roadside Picnic
Authors:Arkady Strugatsky
Other authors:Boris Strugatsky, Ursula K. Le Guin (Foreword)
Info:Chicago Review Press (2012), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Read but unowned, Favorites, Read in 2012
Tags:literature, translation, russia, library, umich, read, 2012, top12, extreme wonderfulness, 20th

Work details

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky (1972)

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    The Ugly Swans by Arkady Strugatsky (leigonj)
    leigonj: By the same authors, both books feature strange happenings: in Roadside Picnic the curious effects left by a brief Alien visitation in 'the zone', and in Ugly Swans the perpetual rain and mutants in a small town, caused by who knows what?
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» See also 97 mentions

English (52)  French (3)  Russian (1)  German (1)  All languages (57)
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
Interesting and enticing for the whole missing-information approach - but just didn't deliver the punch I was expecting. ( )
  jculkin | Feb 1, 2016 |
I am not sure exactly what it is about Soviet SF that I find so appealing and satisfying but I think it has to do with 'oddness,' a sense of the world and its characters being continually off balance and desperately searching for some firm footing that infects the reader as well (at least this reader). The same atmospherics are a constant in most of Stanislaw Lem's novels as well--no intention, here, of simply lumping him in with Soviet authors. This testing of the limits of a human-centric reality is not often an element in Western SF....although there is a hint of it in certain novels of Pynchon.

Very real, even gritty characters, face situations in which their own most basic precepts of how the world does and should operate fail them. Once principals of physics become squishy, so does any sense of 'common sense.' Characters in this novel drink a lot with a purpose: reality has become so weird that they drink to gain some grasp of reality rather than to escape it. Drinking allows the tightly wrapped Dr. Pillman to finally loosen up and express his hopes, fears, guesses about a world in which his beloved physics seems to miss the target so badly it is almost beside the point.

As in much of the fiction of the Strugatsky's, I never feel like it is plotted in a way that fully satisfies Western tastes. It flows too much like life and seems to lack the hand of a creator that carefully manipulates plot lines to arrive at some fully satisfying, poetic conclusion. (Think Chekhov. Not O. Henry.) I feel like this is maybe more of a developed taste in Westerners and it is certainly a taste I have developed.

If Goodreads supported half stars, this would come in at 3.5 for me. I very much enjoyed this book and am in the process of getting my hands on more work by the Strugatsky's as well as a collection of other Soviet SF. I love the atmosphere of these books and the twilight/uncertain worlds into which they plunge their readers. It is a world in which I rightly or wrongly imagine much of mankind to have existed during the Soviet era (read Boris' Afterward) and a world I catch glimpses of when something detected in my peripheral vision causes me to turn my head quickly enough. ( )
  tsgood | Dec 20, 2015 |
A sf novel from the USSR era. An inspiration for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R movie and game. On a banned books list. Very much an enjoyable read. ( )
  Jaskier | Dec 1, 2015 |
Building the story on a series of what if's that involve a visit by aliens several years earlier and the artefacts they left behind and the cascade that follows from dealing with these. Red Schuhart is a man who deals with these artefacts, illegally and this has repercussions on his life, but the alien items are changing the world.

It's an interesting look at a slightly different world, a world where aliens have changed things without really having interaction with the humans. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Oct 27, 2015 |
When we meet Redrick Schuhart, the protagonist of this story, he is working as a laboratory assistant at the Institute of Extraterrestrial Cultures. But he is also a "stalker", only twenty-three when the book begins, and already an expert in the dangers and possibilities of The Zone. The Zone is one of several areas created from the remains of a brief alien visitation. Now gone, the aliens left in their wake both advanced items of technology and areas where the laws of physics no longer apply, or where strange substances and forms instantly kill or disable any human that comes into contact with them.

We learn in the prologue through an interview with the Nobel laureate who discovered the source of the zones. humans have set up an institute that delves into the Zone in order to extract technology. It is the Zone that also attracts illegal Stalkers who venture into the Zone without the technological safeguards offered by the institute but for whom the potential rewards on the black market are far greater. As the story continues we follow Red as he first gets lured into the world of illegal Stalking and then, after a period in prison, as he prepares to venture deep into the Zone in search of a golden ball that is said to grant wishes.
The main setting of the novel is in Harmont, a town near one of the zones in an unnamed country. The setting seems contemporary but, lacking veridical landmarks it takes on a dream-like quality. Red describes Harmont:
"Our little town is a hole. Always was and always will be. Except right now, it's a hole into the future. And the stuff we fish out of this hole will change your whole stinking world. Life will be different, the way it should be, and no one will want for anything. That's our hole for you. There's knowledge pouring through this hole. And when we figure it out, we'll make everyone rich, and we'll fly to the stars, and we'll go wherever we want. That's the kind of hole we have here . . ." (p 42)

These thoughts provide a somewhat idealistic patina for the dangers Red and his cohorts face. About a quarter of the way into the story the narration shifts from first to third person. This transition occurs smoothly and allows for a type of objectivity for the reader after having been inside the head of Redrick Schuhart. It also allows the author to present scenes that Red is not aware of and to discuss ideas that are raised by the events in the story. I found the questions raised thought-provoking. What were the aliens doing on Earth and why did they stop here? Did they notice the existence of human life or were they oblivious to it?
"'what if I turn out to be completely superfluous in their society?' He became more animated. 'What if we're all superfluous? . . . your question falls under the umbrella of a pseudoscience called xenology. Xenology is an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic. At its core is a flawed assumption---that an alien race would be psychologically human.'" (p 129)

There is implicit criticism of the scientific bureaucracy that rings true, but is not identified with a specific terrestrial culture. Along with this the issue of technological change is raised. One wonders what effect dramatic overnight changes in technology might have on our culture. Should we be protected from those changes? Entry to the zones is prohibited to all but a few.

Red has his entire life determined by the Zone. As the book begins, he is defined by his superior knowledge of the Zone's dangers; later he acquires a wife and a daughter as a result of the affairs that he has while living the Stalker's life. Red and his fellow "stalkers" choose to ignore the prohibition risking incarceration at the least and, more importantly, the possibility of death. The denouement of this short novel leaves the reader wondering if this choice is worth the risk. This is an exciting science fiction adventure that blends cultural criticism and philosophical speculation. ( )
  jwhenderson | Sep 20, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (40 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arkady Strugatskyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strugatsky, Borismain authorall editionsconfirmed
弾, 深見翻訳secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bormashenko, OlenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bouis, Antonina W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Le Guin, Ursula K.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lem, StanislawAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Möckel, AljonnaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strugatsky, BorisAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
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)
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.
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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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Average: (3.98)
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2 16
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