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

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

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1,199486,684 (3.99)74
Member:patrickgarson
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
Rating:***
Tags:scifi, russian, classics

Work details

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky (1972)

  1. 70
    Solaris by Stanisław Lem (S_Meyerson)
  2. 10
    Gateway by Frederik Pohl (Vonini)
  3. 00
    Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer (bertilak)
  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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    Railsea by China Miéville (bertilak)
  8. 02
    Fortitude [short story] [podcast] by David Brin (bertilak)
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» See also 74 mentions

English (43)  French (3)  Russian (1)  German (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
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 |
The highlight of Roadside Picnic is the setting. After a mysterious alien visitation, six locations around the world are transformed from everyday places to zones filled with strange phenomena, hazards, and alien artifacts. What was once normal is now a lawless pocket of space attracting those that hunger for wealth, or for knowledge. Governments scramble to get the zones under their control, but they have little luck in stemming the flow of people going into the zones, or of artifacts coming out. The best explorers of these new areas, the ones most familiar with the dangers and the treasures that they contain, are known as stalkers.

The setting by itself is enough to make this story memorable- a normal industrial town is now a place of mystery, death, and power. The characters who explore the zone are modern explorers and treasure hunters. It is little wonder that the zone of Roadside Picnic has inspired films, video games, and other books. Reading the book makes you hungry to learn more about the zone, both on the macro level (what is the zone's purpose, if it has one at all?) and on the micro level (what is a rattling napkin, and what does it do?). The Strugatsky brothers were smart enough not to answer too many of these questions about the zone, only providing enough information for you to get a feel for being in the zone, not enough so that your intrigue is replaced by understanding.

Besides the setting, though, Roadside Picnic also slips in a story about how fatherhood makes you take actions you never would have considered before, and how responsibilities and the passage of years leaves you stuck in a job that you'd rather leave behind, simply because you have no other options. The characters other than the main one are rather one dimensional and the writing is merely competent, not amazing, but otherwise this is a work well worth your time. I wouldn't have minded if it had gone on longer, and if that's not high praise I don't know what is. ( )
  BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
One of many beautiful Strugatsky's books.
  otikhonova | Dec 8, 2014 |
More of a 4.5, but I gave it The Bump. Such a great premise. ( )
  behemothing | Oct 25, 2014 |
Roadside Picnic is a Soviet-era ideological tract about the evils of Capitalism. Interesting idea for the zone but science fiction in the service of ideology is par for the course of this sordid genre. ( )
  Stbalbach | Jun 30, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
 

» Add other authors (86 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arkady Strugatskyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strugatsky, Borismain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bormashenko, OlenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bouis, Antonina W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lem, StanislawAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Möckel, AljonnaÜbersetzersecondary 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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:57 -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)

» see all 2 descriptions

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