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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)

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1,338555,791 (3.97)92
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, translated, russia, library, umich, read, 2012, top12, extreme wonderfulness, 20th

Work details

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky (1972)

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English (50)  French (3)  Russian (1)  German (1)  All languages (55)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
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 |

Frightening, important and completely original sci-fi story that was censored by the Soviet government when first published. Purchase the new translation to get the best version. ( )
1 vote LJMax | Aug 21, 2015 |
Faaaaaaantastic ( )
1 vote | Braden_Timss | Jul 17, 2015 |
I haven't read science fiction since the late 70s, but I picked up this book because I had such fun reading the Strugatsky brothers' satire on crime novels, The Dead Mountaineer's Inn (which had a touch of science fiction itself). And I enjoyed it because, unlike my memories of other books I'd read, it focused on real people and their reactions to a stopover, initially 13 years earlier, by aliens, referred to as the Visit.

The novel opens with an interview with a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, who sets the stage for the novel by pointing out that the most important thing about the Visit was that "we now know for sure that humanity is not alone in the universe." Then the novel switches to Harmont, a city/town that was one of the six places the aliens visited and then left, leaving havoc behind. (Harmont is in an unnamed country, that seems to be someplace in North America, possibly Canada since there are references to Royal organizations.) The reader meets Red Schuhart, then 23 (so 10 when the Visit occurred), who works as a lab assistant at the local branch of the International Institute of Extraterrestrial Cultures by day, and as a so-called stalker by night. Stalkers go into the heavily guarded Zone (the area abandoned after the Visit) braving the dangers there to bring out "swag," weird objects the aliens left behind which command high prices on the black market. Some of these have found uses in human culture, although the humans have no idea what the aliens used them for. Gradually the reader learns about the quest to find the perhaps mythical Golden Sphere, which is said to grant your most heartfelt wish, and at the end of the novel Red goes back into the Zone to find it.

But in between, the reader enters the world of the Zone and the community around it. Dangers abound in the Zone, from hell slime to silver cobwebs to bug traps that concentrate gravity to amazing heat that can burn people, and many who go into the Zone fail to come out. The community around the Zone includes the scientists at the Institute, police who try to control the stalkers, a variety of stalkers, black marketeers, "legitimate" businessmen, bar owners, and more. Red has a girlfriend, Guta, and marries her when she becomes pregnant; the fate of their child, who they call the Monkey, is revealed gradually as the novel progresses. Most of the novel is told from Red's perspective, but there is a section, when he is jailed for stalking, that is told from the perspective of one of his friends, a local salesman of electronic equipment who also seems to be involved in some way in the effort to control stalking.

In a way, this is a philosophical novel. What does it mean to have been visited by aliens who didn't stay? Were they just having a roadside picnic on the way to somewhere else? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to do the right thing?

Note: my edition included as afterword by Boris Strugatsky describing the publication struggle about this book in the Soviet Union.
8 vote rebeccanyc | May 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (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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