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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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1,220496,532 (3.99)76
I finished reading "Roadside Picnic" by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky last night. I enjoyed it. It was interesting. "Stalker" by Tarkovsky was based on the book. The film contains elements of the book but doesn't really follow the book that closely. Still I enjoyed both the book and the movie. ( )
  gsmattingly | May 20, 2012 |
English (44)  French (3)  Russian (1)  German (1)  All languages (49)
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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 |
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 |
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. ( )
2 vote Me-chan | Jun 19, 2014 |
When I finished this story I was reminded of a comment that Rudy Rucker made back in the day about there were limits as to how weird one could make your aliens because our own world was probably about as weird as Humans can handle. Which is another way of saying that what "Roadside Picnic" really has going for it is existential dread, as our protagonist goes from young bravo seeking to make a fast buck from raiding alien artifacts to (over the course of a few years) a desperate man seeking answers to what has happened to his life, and knowing full well that he probably isn't equipped to understand those answers even if they're forthcoming. That the authors cut you no breaks on the ambiguity of the situation in the approved edition of the novel I consider a plus.

What also makes this book look prescient is, on one hand, how it presages the Chernobyl Disaster, and on the other, how it apparently helped to inspire a whole genre of fiction and gaming (survival-horror). ( )
  Shrike58 | May 28, 2014 |
What's most amazing about this book is how the authors write prose that is so thought-provoking but not at all heavy. I might rate it 4 stars for that alone, but add to that the solid, lean prose, interesting characters and the compelling mysteries of the zone, and it's definitely a 5 for me. ( )
2 vote qaphsiel | May 11, 2014 |
What's most amazing about this book is how the authors write prose that is so thought-provoking but not at all heavy. I might rate it 4 stars for that alone, but add to that the solid, lean prose, interesting characters and the compelling mysteries of the zone, and it's definitely a 5 for me. ( )
  qaphsiel | May 11, 2014 |
Science Fiction
6 Stars

Roadside Picnic, while written in 1971, feels like it somehow belongs to the Golden Age AND the Modern Age of Science Fiction. Based on the after effects of an alien visitation Roadside Picnic feels like it could have been written in the 1930’s. However, the language and the way the strange occurrences are handled are definitely modern. This is some of the wittiest, humorous, and downright scariest Science Fiction to come around in a long time. (Psssst, it’s scary as hell because it reads real…) ( )
  TheAlternativeOne | Mar 18, 2014 |
I hadn't originally planned to read this but I saw the movie with some friends and one of them recommended the book. It's very sad, and I think purposefully unfulfilled. I think, like the abruptness of a bug trap, I don't think the reader is supposed to know what happens. The last words we read are like an echo, a last thought, a moment of pure rebellion. It's one of those books where the journey is best part and the point of the story, rather than the conclusion. The film that is based off the book is similar in this way that it only hints at what the Zone really is and where it came from. But that is what makes the Zone so extremely dangerous, is that the reader knows as much about it as the characters do. Rederick Schuart isn't a hero, he is a man struggling between his own curiosity about the Zone and making ends meet for his family. His isn't the kind of character that has an epic destiny, a determination to save everyone, he just wants to be free from those that run his life. So instead of being disappointed like some, I'm glad the book progresses the way it does. ( )
  asukamaxwell | Mar 13, 2014 |
Beautiful, yet unfulfilling, I am left with a hunger for more ( )
  IAmAndyPieters | Feb 16, 2014 |
This is said to be a classic of Russian science fiction. The idea of discarded alien artefacts, absurdly dangerous to retrieve from the zones where they are littered, but with potential of fabulous wealth for the stalkers who bring them out illegally, is a strong one. However, the language seems to have suffered a lot for being translated, and the sceanarios start off very bleakly, and get even bleaker. Not recommended. ( )
  Matt_B | Jan 26, 2014 |
13 years ago, something happened near the city of Harmont. Known as The Visit, no one is quite sure exactly what happened, but something changed in a five-kilometer are. People died. Large gravitational traps appeared pulling anything to the ground, from a tiny bird to a large helicopter. Shadows became alive and dangerous. The air exploded like flame in an instant. And ordinary object suddenly transmuted into valuable items: spacells that provide electricity indefinitely; pins that sing if one pinched long enough; two saucer-sized discs of copper with nothing between them yet inseparable and weighing almost fourteen pounds (an "empty"). Good money was to be found in retrieving such objects and bringing them back for scientific study (or even private collections).

Redrick Schuhart is a Stalker, one of those daring individuals who venture into the area known as the Zone, and one of the best at his craft. The prospect of bringing in a full "empty" -- two of those saucer discs but with a blue substance between them -- spurs Red into making another trek into the Zone -- that, along with a hefty sum of money. But his comrade Kirill innocently brings something back from this trip, something that convinces Red that these trips are too dangerous. But the Zone won't let him go that easily, not when the effects of living so close to and venturing into the Zone too often take their toll on his daughter.

Convinced by his old comrade the Vulture that an ultimate object exists in the Zone -- a Golden Sphere that will grant your innermost wish -- Red makes one last voyage into the damaged area to hopefully find a way to protect his daughter.

A remarkable trip into science fiction, "Roadside Picnic" creates a fantastical landscape, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Simple, forgotten objects take on new life, new meaning, and it's amazing watching Red and his traveling companions carefully pick their way through the Zone. The world inside the Zone doesn't look changed, but nothing is as it once was. Red uses remembrances of past trips, unintentional landmarks left by former stalkers, and even something as simple as tossing a nut or bolt on the path ahead to determine the correct path. Red and others constantly try to understand what created the Zone -- was it simply a change in nature, portending what the future may hold? Or was it an alien visitation? Did they stop by Earth for a few moments and leave their garbage, what Red and others now treasure as the mysterious objects, behind? And throughout, Red tries to hold on to some kind of hope, that something exists in the Zone that will answer all his questions and bring about the miraculous change that his life needs. It's a great book that should be a part of any science fiction library. ( )
  ocgreg34 | Sep 5, 2013 |
Excellent beginning to this novel and a fascinating central idea - our First Contact with extraterrestrial life being with their litter. There's a not-too-subtle point being made here about our own exploitation and degradation of our environment.

The middle is interesting, as it rather disjointedly develops some of the characters and shows how their lives are affected by contact with the alien artifacts. Little is explained and much is hinted, which is simultaneously tantalising and frustrating.

The last chapter I found a disappointing anticlimax to what had gone before. I didn't expect everything to be explained but this felt like it was a couple of pages short of the actual finale. A fine but flawed book. ( )
  Michael.Rimmer | Jul 26, 2013 |
In the book blogosphere the oft-mentioned "proper" order of things is to read the book first and then see the movie. I tend to do things the other way around, seeing a film and wanting to experience the source material.

Roadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky is the source material for one of my favorite soviet films — Stalker (1979). My introduction to it came in an advanced film theory class where we were learning about narrative transformation.

In Stalker, there is the Zone, an abandoned, restricted area where strange things happen. Stalkers are hired by those who wish to see it (illegally of course). In Roadside Picnic, there are many of these Zones. They are areas where alien technology has appeared.

Red Schuhart, like his cinematic counterpart is one of these stalkers. His daughter was born in the Zone and is affected by it. Because of her dependence on it, he can't leave, even though he wants to.

I am grateful for Roadside Picnic providing inspiration to the film, but I was not as blown away by it as I am by the film. The Zone just needs to be shown.

Cinematically it is distinguished from the rest of the world by its color, just like the Wizard of Oz film (1939). But it also uses actual (and dangerous) abandoned buildings as its backdrop, bringing and eeriness that no set designer could accomplish. The book while more complex in its world and character building, can't compete with the visceral impact of the films visuals. ( )
  pussreboots | Jul 21, 2013 |
Recensione su: http://wp.me/p3X6aw-4t
Review at: http://wp.me/p3X6aw-4t ( )
  Saretta.L | Jun 15, 2013 |
Aliens came to visit. Aliens have gone. And what's left on Earth is basically a couple of piles of trash from these picnics. Wait, that isn't quite as rosy as it sounds - they're disaster zones, and the "trash" is dangerous as hell. Some think that meticulously retrieving and probing the mysterious artefacts and items would yield interesting scientific results. Some think that the zones should be left alone. Some think there's a black market out there for all the weird stuff. So in come the stalkers - people skilled in traversing the dangers of the visitation zones, some using their skills with permissions and proper gear, some taking the harder way and just going there on their own.

"Roadside Picnic" is a bit disjointed book - a series of episodes in and out of the visitation zone. Compared to the film "Stalker" that was loosely based on the novel, the story focuses a little bit more on the milieu and lifes and situations and feelings of individual characters, and doesn't really have as much direction. On the other hand, "Stalker" is a slow and meditative film, while "Roadside Picnic" is positively action-packed at times. The protagonist, Red Schuhart, also isn't one upholding all that solemn and contemplative narrative, and goes for a bit more of relaxation.

Reading this book was part of my "oh damn, now that I have a tablet, I'll read all the ebooks I've wanted to read" challenge. Most of those books were from Project Gutenberg, but while Roadside Picnic isn't public domain, the book and its first English translation has been available on the web for a long time through official Strugatsky websites. Years ago, I even tried feeding the novel through text-to-speech. Never quite completed it, but now I did. Of course, I had to deal with the fact that the reader app didn't really like the *fascinating* HTML conversion, so reading experience wasn't optimal. It went okay, though. ( )
  wwwwolf | May 14, 2013 |
Fascinating idea: I love this view of contact with aliens, the idea that maybe they'll come along and they won't care about us, they'll just leave their litter here on earth and not care what happens to us because of it. Obviously the novel unpacks that, but that's the basic idea at the heart of it. And as with so many masterworks of SF, the book is mostly worth reading for that: the characters are indifferent to unpleasant, and only a couple of the relationships are important.

The end is -- whoa. It's awful. And it's somehow the more awful because we don't see what comes of it, whether it was remotely worth it. ( )
  shanaqui | May 7, 2013 |

I’ve been aware of this book for a long time, it spawned both a celebrated film (Stalker) and computer game (Stalker) and is a classic of soviet era SF. The world has a number of sites that are part of “The Visit” where aliens have been to Earth and have left behind mysterious artefacts in “The Zone”. The book opens with a scientific explanation of the distribution of these Znes and then follows Red who is a “Stalker”, a treasure hunter who goes into the Zone to retrieve artefacts. This is a first contact story but one that is utterly strange and wonderful. There are lots of theories, expounded by various characters in the novel, but no hard telling of “this is what’s happening” and the mystery and utter alien-ness of the Visit is what is brilliantly portrayed here as well as following some of the characters over more than 10 years as the Zone is explored. The ending (which I won’t spoil) is also very memorable and stunning. This edition has an introduction by Ursula Le Guin (don’t read this before reading the book!! – why can’t people write introductions with the assumption that you’ve not read the book and don’t want spoilers, luckily once it started talking about the plot I skipped and came back after I read the book) and a brilliant afterword by Boris Strugatsky about the difficulties they had getting it published and Soviet censorship.

Overall – Highly recommended for lovers of SF and the weird ( )
  psutto | Apr 3, 2013 |
Top Story
A New Translation of The One Russian Science Fiction Novel You Absolutely Must Read

By Annalee Newitz
If you're going to read just one Soviet-era Russian science fiction novel, it should be Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's dark, ambiguous Roadside Picnic. Originally written in the early 1970s, it's back in print in English after 30 years, with a brand-new translation by Olena Bormashenko and a riveting afterword by Boris Strugatsky about how the book was butchered by Soviet censors. It's a seriously intense tale of a man who risks his life and freedom to smuggle artifacts out of mysterious "Zones" where aliens landed.

Red is a "stalker," a man who is one of the most successful players in the black market for alien technologies. He trades in the inexplicable objects left behind by mysterious visitors in now-contaminated Zones all over the Earth, where even the laws of physics have been warped by whatever the aliens were doing. The life of a stalker is almost always deadly, because the Zones are full of toxic gunk, gravitational anomalies, and other dangers. Plus, exposure to the Zones causes the stalkers' children to be born as inhuman mutants, and corpses buried in the Zones come back to life and shuffle aimlessly around their old homes. Still, Red thinks the whole deal is worth it — the artifacts fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, mostly because they've allowed scientists to invent everything from infinite, self-replicating batteries to a perpetual motion machine.

Nobody has any idea why the aliens came, nor why they left. At one point, a Nobel prize winning physicist who works on the Zone technologies admits that the items may have been left behind as garbage. The aliens might have been the equivalent of humans on a picnic leaving behind foil wrap, batteries, motor oil, and other bizarre bits of junk that confuse the local animals.

The brilliance of this novel is that it doesn't matter whether you believe the Zones are garbage we animals are picking over, or a message the aliens want us to decode. The point is that you are forced to guess at the aliens' intentions, and deal with the discomfort of not ever getting a pat answer. It's the same discomfort that is wrecking Red's life, and warping everyone around him as they try to create value and meaning from what might, after all, be nothing but (literal) alien shit. Things only get worse when some of the stalkers decide to hunt down the "sphere," an artifact that supposedly grants wishes.

Fast-paced and exciting, Roadside Picnic is also a compelling character study of Red and his family as the stalker's life changes them. It's a novel of disturbing ideas about both extraterrestrial life and our own pathetically puny place in the universe. Gritty and realistic but also fantastical, this is a novel you won't easily put down — or forget.

It's also one of the Strugatskys' most popular books outside Russia, partly because it inspired Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker (as well as a series of videogames). But its publishing history, according to Boris, nearly drove the brothers insane. Apparently, it took eight years to get the book past the censors, and not for the reasons you'd think. Russian authorities had no problem with the ideology of the book, which can be interpreted as anti-capitalist and depicts Western life as a horror show. Instead, they were angered by the idea that kids might be harmed by reading a book that was so dark, full of violence, drinking, crime, and cursing. They gave the brothers a list of hundreds of scenes and phrases that had to be changed before the book would be published — including turning the zombies to cyborgs (less disturbing) and making the novel's ending decidedly unambiguous in a really cheesy way.

In the afterword, Boris Strugatsky explains that there are worse things than ideological censors — there are the literary gatekeepers who want every work of fiction to be banal and reassuring, never forcing the reader to go outside his or her comfort zone. But Roadside Picnic, now restored to the authors' original version, is all about going into the Zones that are far beyond the reaches of your safe little life. To venture into the Zone is to confront who we really are, and what our place is in the universe. And the answers will disturb the hell out of you. Which is as it should be.

You can pick up a copy of the new translation of Roadside Picnic via IPG, from Chicago Review Press.
  Traveller1 | Mar 30, 2013 |
For me, this book is not about who the visitors where, what they wanted and what they left behind. It is about human nature as seen by the response of people to this unique event and its consequences. It is about a small city where everyone is trying to get at everyone. Stealing, lying, double-crossing, killing for money and for survival. Even the most honest or innocent end up entangled in this mess.

I read Stanislav Lem's review about the book and I frankly believe his criticisms were unfair. I don't see a problem with the possibility that the visitors were benevolent and the whole thing was an accident. The point is that we, just like the people in the book, don't know, can't know and in the end it doesn't matter. The possibility that they didn't even notice us is enough. I also don't see the turn to fairy tale towards the end of the book. The Golden Globe had become a legend for the people in the book, but there is no reason to think that there is something special about it. In fact, the person that first found it doesn't seem to have any of his wishes fulfilled and when Red finally sees it he notices that it looks quite ordinary, another piece of visitor junk. ( )
  dalai-lt | Mar 30, 2013 |
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