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Roadside Picnic (Rediscovered Classics) by…

Roadside Picnic (Rediscovered Classics) (original 1972; edition 2012)

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

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1,271526,206 (3.99)88
Title:Roadside Picnic (Rediscovered Classics)
Authors:Arkady Strugatsky
Other authors:Boris Strugatsky, Ursula K. Le Guin (Foreword)
Info:Chicago Review Press (2012), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:ebook, Your library
Tags:scifi, russian, classics

Work details

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky (1972)

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  4. 00
    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?
  5. 00
    The Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky (British Film Institute) by Mark Le Fanu (S_Meyerson)
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    Complete Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper (Vonini)
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    Fortitude [short story] [podcast] by David Brin (bertilak)

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» See also 88 mentions

English (47)  French (3)  Russian (1)  German (1)  All languages (52)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
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 |
A dawning realisation is that for me, a richness of language and setting is just as important as the concepts described in order for me to enjoy a story.
The concept of an abandoned alien visitation site with baffling advanced alien technology strewn as refuse; the community that grows around it; government and Stalkers, all drew me into the story. Yet only twice in the story did I really feel like it hit the mark for me - Firstly, the conversation with Noonan where the Roadside Picnic idea is discussed, and when Red makes his final trip in the Zone. In total this probably accounts for 20 pages of the book. The rest I found a rather bland read. Just as Red seems removed from what is around him, I felt removed from the story, content to watch it pass by than be immersed in it.
Philosophically, there is much going on, but ultimately, for me it came wrapped in a dry and dull narrative.
Roadside Picnic was well written and structurally solid, but ultimately unsatisfying for me. ( )
  StaticBlaq | Apr 26, 2015 |
A true Sci-Fi classic. A little dated in style and characterization (unsurprisingly), but a tightly written novel with a rather unusual and mysterious premise. Well worth a re-read even if I left it rather a long time! Now to re-watch Tarkovsky's Stalker.............. ( )
  malcrf | Mar 24, 2015 |
Aliens have made contact, or have they? Thirteen years after the visitation, an international science cooperative has locked up each landing site, dubbed Zones in an effort to study the unexplained phenomena. Red Schuhart is a stalker, someone that sneaks into the zones and tries to collect artefacts. Despite the legal ramifications, artefacts on the black market sell really well. When Red puts together another team to collect a “full empty” everything goes wrong.

The attempts to gain publication of Roadside Picnic is a story in itself; like most Russian literature this novel was originally serialised in a literary magazine. Attempts to publish in book form took over eight years, mainly due to denial by the Department for Agitation and Propaganda. The heavily censored book that originally was published was a significant departure to what the authors originally wrote. I am unclear as to whether the new translation I read corrected this censorship, to quote the back of the book “this authoritative new translation corrects many errors and omissions”. I know some of the corrections made included to the original translation starting thirty years after the visitation rather than thirteen but unsure what else was changed. However, despite the censorship and notwithstanding the fact this novel was out-of-print in America for thirty years; Roadside Picnic is wildly regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.

The title Roadside Picnic refers to the visitation and the fact that they never made contact with humanity. The novel plays with the idea that intelligent life wouldn’t want to make contact with the human race. One look at humanity, full of all the violence towards each other, aliens would conclude that humans are not intelligent life forms but rather savages. One character within the novel, Dr. Valentine Pilman compared the aliens visit to that of an extra-terrestrial picnic.

“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.”

It is fascinating to look at humanity in a first contact novel and it reminded me of how much I’ve enjoyed the psychological/philosophical science fiction novels that seemed to be produced in the 1960s and 70s. However Roadside Picnic went deeper; like most Russian novels of this time, there was a strong reflection on society at the time. Like I said before, I am not sure if this edition still holds the Soviet censorship but I was impressed by the subtle look at society. It wasn’t just a poke at the Soviet Union but rather a look at humanity under an unidentifiable superpower. This could be an American superpower and it looks at ideas of what might happen if the government prohibits the people from gaining access to the biggest scientific discovery of their time. You have a struggle between quarantined verses legitimate scientific research, playing with the moral idea of government regulated technology.

Moving away from the themes, Roadside Picnic is a thrilling and beautifully written novel. Red Schuhart almost comes across as a hard-boiled narrator but less cynical; he remains a wide-eyed curious protagonist throughout the narrative. A surreal, tense story that threw out the rules found in a ‘first contact’ novel and ended up redefining the genre. It went on to challenge some of the ideas in the study of xenology and perhaps even ufology.

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky have been the authors of over twenty science fiction novels, their unique style of blending Soviet rationalism with speculative fiction can be found throughout their books. Roadside Picnic remains their masterpiece and inspired the Russian cult classic movie Stalker (1979) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky wrote the screenplay for Stalker and then the novelisation; no idea why you need a novelisation of a movie that was based on a book. Roadside Picnic is an amazing novel, and reminds me why I love Russian science fiction. The blend of social commentary and science fiction is what I continue to look for when searching for books in this genre.

This review originally appeared on my blog: http://literary-exploration.com/2014/12/12/roadside-picnic-by-arkady-boris-strug... ( )
1 vote knowledge_lost | Dec 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (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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